What do you do when your full name won’t fit in the allotted boxes for your grade-school registration? If you’re Anastasia Kastrenakes (pictured below), a Greek-American now living in Miami, you say to the class: “Just call me Anna.”
A first-generation Greek-American, Anna faced the challenges that many such children do, with parents—in Anna’s case, her mother—who don’t always understand some of those peculiar American ways. Like Anna wanting to play soccer in school. (“Good girls don’t play soccer.”) Or her excitement about being crowned queen for a junior-high school function. (“Unimportant.”)
Although she grew up in an ethnically diverse neighborhood in Miami Beach, few of the other families were Greek. And none of Anna’s friends had to translate what their parents were saying for teachers and shopkeepers, the way Anna did for her mother.
Plus, there was the matter of her school lunchbox. Her mother filled it with such Greek delicacies as dolmades, the Greek-stuffed grape leaves. “I wanted peanut butter and jelly like everybody else,” Anna recalls.
But Anna shared something important with her mother: both are determined women who wanted their children to speak Greek. Anna does. But what about her three children? Especially after being told by a school official that “Let’s face it: these kids are never going to learn to speak Greek fluently. They live in America.”
Bucking a linguistic trend
Linguists call it “shift.” The rest of us would call it “loss.” It’s what happens to the languages spoken by immigrants, and it happens fast. By the third generation, and sometimes even the second, the German or Hindi or Greek spoken in the home is gone.
But not always.
Listen to Episode 3 of my “America the Bilingual” podcast and find out what happened with Anna and her family.
Listen on iTunes by clicking here: America the Bilingual by Steve Leveen on iTunes
Or on SoundCloud, by clicking here.
And just as important—I want to hear from you: Are you a first-generation “hyphenate-American”? I’d love to hear your own story about how your family handled speaking—and also reading—two languages. You can write a response right on this post.
America the Bilingual is a storytelling podcast for Americans who are learning another language, or would like to start. Subscribe on iTunes or wherever you listen to podcasts and hear a new episode every two weeks. (If you use Twitter, I’ll let you know about future episodes there as well.)
A big “Bravo!” to America’s language teachers. The American Council on the Teaching of Foreign Languages — their acronym ACTFL (pronounced ACT-Full) is fitting. Its Lead with Languages campaign encourages bilingualism for all.