|Can you guess where this smiling Brown Girl is from|
or what languages she speaks by looking at her?
As culturally adept as I think I am, I will admit that I was surprised the first time I heard a Japanese woman speaking French while I was in Paris over 15 years ago. After the first 10 seconds of surprise, however, I smiled to myself and thought “Duh. Why wouldn’t she?”
Likewise, my father-in-law - a big 6'5" burly deep-voiced African-American man from Virginia/DC – spoke French with a delightful accent that surprised everyone he met (including many French). His wife, a blue-eyed Belgian beauty from France, spoke English with a thick French accent that often had a Southern twang to it having relocated to the United States in her early 30s. How I loved listening to her speak. #ImissyouMarieLouise! Their son, born in France, came to the US speaking very little English and had, of course, a delightful French accent. He was teased mercilessly for it as a child and now sounds as American as any American I have ever met.
Since I think I have dated just about every ethnicity under the cultural rainbow (pre-husband, of course) and after having an African-American boyfriend bust out his Thai language skills at a Thai restaurant one night shocking the wait staff and earning us a free meal, I find that I am rarely surprised anymore. I have always said that you can’t tell very much about a person simply by looking at him/her, but on some levels, I think it’s normal for human beings to make these type of inaccurate judgments. Exposure to different cultures and travel does help some people amend these inaccuracies, but only for those with an open mind.
A few days ago, I was chatting with a Facebook friend who hails from Peru. She was pleasantly surprised to learn that I knew about Keiko Fujimori, a candidate in the current (and very close) race for President of Peru. A Japanese Peruvian, Keiko is (of course) fluent in Spanish, Japanese AND English. You can see and hear Keiko here.
I think it would be fair to say that there are many people who never considered that there might be Peruvians (or Latin Americans) of Asian descent let alone the fact that a person of Asian descent might speak languages other than just, for example, Japanese or English. “Japanese Peruvians comprise the second largest ethnic Japanese population in Latin America after Brazil….” [Wiki] Evidently, Peru established diplomatic relations with Japan as far back as 1873 and Japanese immigration began in 1899.
And then there are the Chinese Peruvians, who make up approximately 5% of the population in Peru. Most Chinese Peruvians (also known as tusán) - many of whom came to Peru as contract laborers in the 19th century - are multi-lingual as well. “In addition to Spanish or Quechua, many of them speak one or more Chinese dialects that may include Cantonese, Hakka, Mandarin, and Minnan. Since the first Chinese immigrants came from Macau, some of them also speak Portuguese.” [Wiki] #verycool Please also check out the story of Fabiana Chiu, a Peruvian of Chinese descent, on PBS.org by clicking here.
As a culture lover and multi-lingual wannabe, I enjoy pointing out cultural facts that many of us may or may not be aware of. After asking around for the past few days, I find that many people didn’t ever consider that there might be Latin Americans of Asian descent (yes, really), let alone the fact that an Asian person’s first language might be Spanish or French or Arabic or...whatever. After all, being Asian and speaking Spanish are not mutually exclusive. #canIgetanamen?
If you have ever looked at someone and then heard him/her speak, only to become surprised by the language or accent you hear (or don't hear for that matter), then you are not alone. I know I have. Just not anymore. #saynotojudgingbooks