Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Importance of Being Bilingual

The Importance of Being Bilingual
Michael Lujan Bevacqua
May 19, 2015
No Rest for the Awake - Minagahet Chamorro

For the Importance of Second Language Learning Forum that I helped organize a few weeks ago, we were honored to have a very diverse and exciting panel. Coming at it from different angles, they covered a number of way, some more philosophical and others more practical, as to how learning a second language can be important and as a result, something that should be required at UOG. 
The panel featured the following guests:
Kenneth Gofigan Kuper, a Ph.D. student in Political Science at UH Manoa and former student of mine. He is a young activist who has taken up both the banner of decolonization and language revitalization. I've been working with him on a number of projects such as Ha'anen Fino' Chamoru Ha' and the upcoming Lalahen Sinahi project. He took Chamorro as his second language requirement at UOG and it changed the course of his life. 

Ronald T. Laguana, the current director of the Division of Chamorro Studies in the Guam Department of Education. He is a founding member of the group Nasion Chamoru and is also one of the people behind the popularization of the Inefrei written by Dr. Bernadita Camacho Dungca. He is a proud and active member of the Inetnon Lalahin Guahan, YMLG. 

Toyoko Kang and Clarisa Quan are both professors at UOG. Kang is a Japanese language professor and Quan is a Linguistics and English professor. Both of them have been critics of the dropping of the second language requirement at UOG. 

Dr. Laura Souder Betances is a pioneering Chamorro scholar. She was the one who first connected the academic ideas of feminism into Chamorro scholarship. She is the author of Daughters of the Island and the co-editor of the volume Chamorro Self-Determination with Robert Underwood. She and her husband are consultants for diversity and education.
With the help i nobia-hu Elizabeth Kelley Bowman, we gathered together some of the main quotes by the panelists. I'm sharing them below for people to see. As you can see, it was a very interesting discussion. This may have been part of the reason why the overwhelming majority of people who attended the event and who completed a survey, supported keeping the language requirement in place. 
I took Chamorro 101 to fulfill the language requirement.  I didn’t really care about the Chamorro language.  There was nothing in it for me.  . . . There was so much evidence of internalized racism and internalized colonialism, but what happened was that I ended up taking a few courses, with Chamorro language being a pivotal one, with Siñora Teresita Flores . . . and I learned a lot.  We would come to class and I would learn words that I used to remember hearing my grandmother speak when I grew up.  . . . You have just given me the gift, siñora, of understanding something that I never understood my entire life.  I got more and more involved with this, based off of taking a random class, because it was a GE requirement. 
I really had no interest in the Chamorro language four years ago, when I was twenty.  I’m twenty-four now.  And so, it was so important that I took that course, because sometimes the best things in life tend to hit you over the head when you least expect it.  And that’s why I support having second-language requirements as a GE, because we should not take away the opportunity for another person to have the story that I have.  To have the story of reconnecting with their roots as a Chamorro, no matter if you’re taking Tagalog classes, you’re taking Chinese, there’s so much reconnection to who you are, because through language, you can see the worldview, hear the worldview, the epistemology of your ancestors.  And there’s nothing that should take that away from you.
Kenneth Gofigan Kuper, M.A.
Yanggen para taiguini pa’go, na mafunas ya para mungga machule’ I Chamorro guini, pat maseha hafa na suhetu, Chapones, Tagalog pat maseha hafa, insuttu enao! Para guini gi tano’-ta gi este i eskuela-ta. I Unibetsedat Guahan i mas takhilo’ na unibetsedat guini gi Pasifiku.
Ronald T. Laguana
Language learning, teaching, shares some category of the learning process of critical thinking.  For example, . . . in [Japanese] 101 they are really completely beginners.  So they can’t analyze each word vocabulary particle, or prepositions; they have to analyze, and then, to get the meaning, they have to synthesize.  . . . Students have to learn how to analyze the information and to synthesize and then find out, evaluate, those information . . . Those kinds of learning process occur in second-language learners.  For example, each language has different concepts or realizations. . . .
To learn culture, to just read about Japanese culture in English, I don’t agree.  I don’t agree. Learn through the language, and learn to use it.  Otherwise they cannot use it. Learning should be used.  . . .  So that means students got deeper perspective. 
Toyoko Kang, Ph.D.
When I heard that they wanted to take away the second language requirement, I said, “Huh?”  We live in an island that’s multilingual, that’s multiethnic, that’s multicultural, and they want to take it away?  And Guam, I think, reflects the world as it is today.  We’re living in an increasingly multilingual, global world where multilingualism, multiculturalism, are the norm, rather than the exception.  And for you to take it away is ridiculous.  Or even to kind of reduce the requirement for it.  Second-language learning is cultural learning as well; learning modern languages is to learn the cultures as well.  . . . It promotes cultural awareness, it promotes criticism of ethnocentrism, believing that yours is the only correct one, superior one, it promotes acceptance of other people, other cultures, and I think it is very, very important. 
Clarisa Quan, Ph.D.
To the members of the faculty senate, who may be listening, who may be eavesdropping: it’s important that these voices, our voices, be heard.  . . . As Dr. Underwood said, “Siña mantulaika este na recommendation,” no?  And that’s the thing to remember.  Sometimes we make logical decisions, and they lead us to wrong destinations.  And we have the opportunity here to change course.  And to defy logic, because sometimes things are simply not logical, especially when they belong to matters of the heart. . . .
Universities exist to universalize students.  And how do we universalize students?  We universalize them by providing them with different universes in which to learn, to make decisions, and to operate, and to be successful.  One of the things that Sammy [Betances] and I have been doing lately, in the Marianas, in the Northern Marianas, and in Palau, is that we have been talking about the global-island divide, and how do we bridge that divide?  . . . If we’re going to operate and be successful in the global reality, we need to know more than one language.  Fortunately, many – most – of us are bilingual.  But we need to know many languages, because in order to be successful, you have to negotiate in many parts of the world.  In order to have an economic future, we need to be able to speak the languages of the people that we are trading with.  . . .
So that’s very important, from a language perspective, from a global perspective, from a university perspective.  Diminishing the capacity of students to learn more than one language, than the lingua franca which is English, is diminishing the capacities of universities to fully function as universalizing places for students. . . .
So that’s one aspect of language.  And I’d like you to think about another aspect of language, and that is language as the umbilical cord of culture.  Language connects us with culture.  And ladies and gentlemen, we don’t need to be reminded of this.  The Chamorro language and culture exists here, on this island, and these islands, of the Marianas.  Nowhere else on earth, nowhere else on earth, do we have the sovereign right to speak and live as Chamorros except in the Marianas.  So we have another responsibility.  This is not just about making available languages.  We’re not talking about just any language.  We’re talking about our indigenous language.  We’re talking about the responsibility that we have to protect the sovereignty of our language and our culture.  Nowhere else will anybody do this for us. 
This is our game.  These are our decisions.  . . . It is our responsibility to stand up, and that is why this kind of gathering is so important, because we need to make our voices heard.
Laura Torres Souder Betances, Ph.D.

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