I love that Maya wrote in her article: “to have more than one passport didn’t make you half this and half that, rather, it made you more American.” People often ask me where I am from. When I was little, I was constantly confronted with this question from peers and teachers: “where are you from?”. The Answer that most put them at ease was: I am from the Philippines”, as this confirmed their suspicions of my complexion and dark hair and they relaxed in their confirmation biases.
As I grew up and my language skills greatly improved, more and more people have added the comment: “but you are more Danish. You speak fluent Danish. You think like a Dane. You are not as Asian as those Asians that you surround yourself with”. To that, I say that I am more. I am Filipino and Danish and from the Global South and European. I reject none. I embrace all. I am fully all of those because I strive towards excellence to understand and contain all of these sensibilities and positionalities. I don’t adhere to only one positionality; I have the linguistic and cultural fluency to switch to whatever suits the context. It sounds braggadocios, but just in case there is not an afterlife, why is it not okay to strive for excellence in this life?
Our proficiency in language becomes one of the indicators of our national identity. In life, we should strive for the highest excellence in the three languages we speak. Fluency is not enough; understanding is more profound and rewarding. We shape how people interact with us through our command of the language. Words can have mental conditions on their use, not captured by a simple Google translation. An innate understanding of words shapes our ideas of emotions, principles, the perspective of time, subliminal confirmation biases and overt/covert power relations.
For example, Tagalog requires you to engage in conversation with implicit language learning. Implicit language learning requires a higher acquisition of unconscious knowledge. This type of communication means that the speaker must simultaneously convey and understand the structural relations of a more complex subliminal syntax of the language, not what is being explicitly expressed. Grudges will be held for a long time if you do not understand the subtext of the conversation.
Danish is more explicit. You say what you mean, and things are not generally taken personally. It should be understood within a flat organisational structure. Power relations are low and autonomy is high. If people say that you are an idiot, don’t take it seriously. Life moves on, even if you do not.
My point is that these skills and sensibilities require adequate proficiency if you only pursue it halfheartedly. Nor is it okay to devalue one’s efforts to become and strive to be more, by calling them “half” or ignoring the many colour palettes that they paint their own identities with. To only pick one – that’s immensely boring to ignore the feast of your colours, and just take one slice of stale bread because it is the closest one.
Richness in life is about gathering up all of the knowledge and experience that you have collected up to now to help you dive into the things that you did not know. To nibble, taste or devour the delicacies of what makes you and makes the human being in front of you.
It is an ongoing and delightful challenge to become more, a more wholesome human being with a richer understanding of life and its many raw and tender nuances. The richest person in the graveyard is not the one with the biggest bank account, it is the person who became fully themselves.
By Julliette E. Lloren
You can read Maya’s original article here: [Part One] [Part Two]