My heart sank as I read the replies under the comment I posted. Every word was a dagger, stabbing my chest over and over again and then twisted. When I could not handle it anymore, I closed the tab browser and shut my computer down, trying to ignore it. “American wannabe,” “too proud to speak in Malay,” and “disgrace of the community” are only some of the things people called me in their replies. For them, I have forgotten about my own roots and heritage. I should not live here in Malaysia, or better I should be exiled from my country. Although those were not the worst remarks I have received, still, there was a sting in my heart.
“Suck it up and get over it!” I told myself, as usual. It became a normal routine for me since I was a teen.
The next morning as I entered my class, I could notice the stares from some of my classmates as they whispered to each other. As expected, they started to crack their snide jokes to each other, obviously about me.
“Hey guys, minah salleh just came in!” and they all laughed. Again, as usual, I tried to ignore them and walked towards my friends with one reserved seat for me. My friends looked at me with sympathy and scorn in their faces for our classmates’ behavior towards me. The name minah salleh, which means ‘white girl’ in my language, was meant to mock me. And they intended to let the whole world know about me, the girl who lost her identity.
Because every time they say it, everyone would agree with them.
This is a normal, but distressing scenario I have to live with every day. All because of one thing – I speak one language, English, more often than I speak in my own language.
I love learning foreign languages. But English was the only language I could learn in school. Before the age of ten, English language lessons in school are compulsory for children. But of all of them, I grew fascinated with the language and started to read everything in English from storybooks, newspapers, magazines to signboards and labels on every product I bought. I poured over the English language.
I decided to speak more. I wanted to improve my fluency in English as much as I could.
Unfortunately, none of the kids my age, from my own community, were interested in it. They saw English as a language to pass in examinations from elementary to high school. It was only important for them to survive college one day as it was an academic language, but that was it. They just needed to know the basics, but there was no need to make it as known as our own language.
If I was a diaspora kid or a child of an immigrant, they would not say anything. But I was not and for them, it was peculiar to speak in another language than our own. The way they saw it, I have forgotten my own mother tongue. I was showing off with my ability in speaking English or proudly displaying my level in intelligence – for them English was a measure of people’s intellect. The verbal bullying is not just from people around, but also in social media. Just one post on my Facebook or Instagram with an English caption and in no time, it will be full of comments from critics.
I have been living with these people my whole life and I still wonder – why is it a sin to speak in another language? It is just a language, a verbal or written expression with completely different words. Speaking in another language does not mean I am forgetting my own roots and heritage. I am not ‘converting’ myself into a white – as they called it – but it is simply because I love it.
I would never forget my own native language as I speak it with my family and friends all the time. The only difference between me and them is my ability to speak in another language, but they see it as arrogance. This is not just happening to me, it happens to others from my community who speak English or any other languages as well. Because there is one rule about being born in our homeland – we have to speak in our native language. We do not live in a country of four seasons, eat full English breakfasts or even have colored-eyes and white skin, so why bother ‘changing’ ourselves into one of them?
Just a slip of one English word and every eye will turn to us with judging stares. It is almost impossible to change the society’s mentality about this. No matter what our intention is, they will always be viewed negatively.