Sunday, June 4, 2017

说汉语, Speak Chinese

Eileen's uncle, Small Autumn, gets two inches from her face, tells her, "<Speak Chinese,>" again and again. He's not the only one who tries to get her to speak the language she's all but forgotten, but he's the most insistent. And I'm stuck between anger and patience. On the one hand, Small Autumn and the rest of the family last knew Eileen when she spoke only Chinese, almost four years ago, and they raised her. But on the other hand, she's obviously uncomfortable—silent, backing away from the crowd around her that demands she remember her relation to everybody. "<Which aunt am I?>" "<How are you related to this baby?>" "<Do you remember me?>" After which questions, she's quizzed on what they've just told her. Eileen was four years old when she left here, Shuangyashan, and she's been in Kansas since she was five. It makes sense that the family has missed her and is now perhaps disappointed that she can't speak her first language anymore. Her maternal grandmother says that Eileen's silence is rude. But I want to tell them to stop being language bullies, to get out of her face.