When I was a little girl I didn't know how to pronounce my own name. Ridiculous but true.
The rolling "r" in Irene often proved so difficult for me to say in Spanish, that when asked my own name, I would either just say it in English in order to avoid the embarrassment, or just say my nickname, Cookie, (not the Spanish Cuqui, of course). I remember my mother drilling me, in Spanish, to repeat the refrain erre con erre cigarro (r and r, cigar) - in an effort to help me pronounce my own name. Although it did eventually help, I still to this day often feel that my tongue is often too large for my mouth, whenever I have to speak Spanish for any extended period of time. As my mother would often report "ella se traga la lengua" - literally meaning - (sigh) she swallows her tongue.
My problems with Spanish, however, not only centered on speaking but also on reading. For you see, I was never formally taught how to read in Spanish. As I have written about earlier, for a variety of reasons, my parents never signed me up for bilingual education, and so I received all of my classes in English. In all my years of schooling, I was only briefly enrolled in one Spanish class, which mostly involved signing songs. Later, when it was time to go to high school, I signed up to take French classes, because why would I want to sign up for Spanish, if I spoke that at home? That clearly was a mistake which I still pay for.
To this day, speaking and reading Spanish, while possible, don't come as naturally to me as English, which is a real source of frustration to me - although I do keep trying.
But sometimes that effort just feels pitiful and it makes me very m/sad. Today as I was writing a chapter on the status of psychology in Puerto Rico, I finally hit a wall,. I found a bunch of source documents and articles in Spanish but quickly realized that I needed some back up to decipher the material because my Spanish just wasn't all that sharp.
I felt so angry at how this all came to be.
I trained to become a psychologist because I wanted to do something useful with my life and to give back to my community, But nowhere, in all of my years of doctoral training, was I ever offered any course in Spanish. That is, while I was definitely exposed to multicultural counseling, I was never offered a course in Spanish medical and psychiatric terminology nor was I ever given the formal opportunity, while in training, to practice doing therapy in Spanish (perhaps because there was NO ONE who could actually supervise my sessions). Instead, I was offered lots of courses in statistics and perception - and so now, I can accurately perceive how little, indeed, was offered to me and can now validly assess the wretched state of my own field.
Dislocated from the island, my parents came to the U.S. with the hopes that my life here would be somehow better than if I was raised there. But in some respects, they were wrong. Being a colonial subject, means that although I was exposed to, and earned more, education than either my mother or father combined, this very education has, in fact, contributed to my own alienation. And so indeed Lorde was correct - the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house - because while I did speak English at school, I also spoke it at home, with my friends, and to my parents - in particular, I spoke English to my mother so she could translate it to my father who only really spoke Spanish (the beginning of a very unhealthy triangulation in our home).
But what is a parent to do? Parents often face difficult choices when raising their children, struggling to make sure their children fit in while also wishing for their children to retain their own cultural identity.
But, apart from what parents should do, what should the state do? What are the best ways to help immigrant children function in a host country (or as in my own case, what would have been the best way for me, as a citizen, to function in my own country?). Should the state mandate language classes for immigrant children OR should the state institute bilingual, or even, trilingual classes for all? (Before you think that this is not possible - I would like to state that the mean number of languages that my students in Budapest speak is THREE - but that is a post for another day).
Should we aim to integrate these children - or are they better served in "catch-up" classes? And catch- up to what? to what norm? to who's standard?
Such are some of the questions surrounding the (mis)education of Roma children in Hungary, a topic that I was exposed to when I did my Fulbright in Hungary. I only learned about it because I decided to go for a walk on a rainy Sunday afternoon and walked right into a political protest outside of the Hungarian parliament. Although my Hungarian is quite basic (actually non-existent is more to the point) I was able to make out some key phrases - like antifascists and could also recognize the flag of Amnesty International (because it literally said Amnesty International), and with the help of google translate I quickly understood that this was a rally against the enforced segregation of Roma children in Hungary,.
As described in this article from Reuters
More than 2,000 Hungarians, including Roma families and civil groups, marched to parliament on Sunday to protest against the government’s refusal to pay compensation to Roma children who had been unlawfully segregated in a school in eastern Hungary.
Apparently, in the village of Gyongyospata (in Northern Hungary) there is an ongoing dispute on what should be done after the lower courts declared that the state should pay damages to the families of Roma children who were placed in segregated schools. For almost a decade this has been dragging on with PM Orban suggesting that the state should not pay damages but instead provide "customized education opportunities" instead (see here for further description of this proposal)
So what is the role of the state? what obligations does it have toward others? and more pertinently, what are the psychological consequences of pursuing polices that segregate and refusing to compensate when damage has been done?
Certainly, there is no shortage of psychological literature pointing to the harmful effects of segregation as the research by Drs. Kenneth and Mamie Clark showed. In fact, it was their work that showed how racial segregation harmed the self-images of Black children and was formed the basis of decision to desegregate American schools (see here)
However, what I would argue, is that segregation does not only hurt immigrant children - but majority children as well. Because segregation prevents contact and limits exposure to others. Segregation also dehumanizes and this was a point I saw echoed in many of the signs at the protest. People also just seemed tired - like really fed up as evidenced by the signs I saw (Enough! Enough!)
Of most interest to me is that by the end of that Sunday approximately 500 Hungarian psychologists had signed a petition against this government policy.
See psychologists can have a role in shaping social policy.