Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother: Madeleine L'Engle and Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley

I have just discovered the fascinating history of Anna Madgigine Jai Kingsley and her family. As a Florida native, I'm furious that I had never heard this story before - all Florida schoolchildren should learn about her! A small tangent on that story is that author Madeleine L'Engle (A Wrinkle in Time) mentions Anna Kingsley as an acquaintance of her mother's great-grandmother, Susan Phillipa Fatio. I didn't realize before that Madeleine L'Engle had such strong roots in North Florida, but many members of her mother's family have interesting histories. 

I'd like to elaborate more on my thoughts about the Kingsley family and what makes them so unique and important to Florida in another post. Here is L'Engle's story about Anna Kingsley, which she heard from her own mother, as recounted to her by her great-grandmother. Susan Phillipa Fatio, known as Greatie, would have been L'Engle's great-great-grandmother. 

"'Tell me about Greatie and the African Princess.'"
      That was probably my favorite story about Greatie. A wealthy planter and slave trader fell in love with an African princess, and married her. She lived in his huge house partly as wife, partly as servant, bore him many children, and nearly died of homesickness. She was ostracized by both whites and blacks, except for Greatie, who once a week was rowed down the river - it must have been a two- or three-hour trip in the grizzling sun - to spend the day with the princess. First Greatie had to have lunch with the slave trader, while the princess served them. Then Greatie and the princess went off together to the princess's rooms, and talked, and drank cold tea together.
     If Mado had strong ideas about what was right and what was wrong in human relationships, so did her mother-in-law. Greatie and the princess were close friends in a day when such a friendship was unheard of, and Greatie simply laughed when she was criticized and sometimes slandered because of this relationship. I was delighted when I learned, only recently, that a good friend of mine is a descendant of this long-gone African princess.

Pages 187-188

"They are all dead, long dead, these golden lads and lasses, so long dead that the taint of corruption no longer clings to their dust. They are all gone, Francoi Philippe, Dublin and Scipio, the African princess and the French pirate. Greatie is remembered only by a few remaining great-grandchildren. 
     And by me."

Madeleine L'Engle, The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, page 189 

     I found this small story interesting for many reasons. It is a personal account, but also a third-hand account, passing from Greatie to her great-granddaughter. And then from the great-granddaughter to her own daughter. But it is still valuable, as most of what we know about Anna Kingsley comes from her husband, Zephaniah Kingsley's, perspective. 
    There is a tendency in analysis of their relationship to emphasize that they were in love, and that this is what made their relationship unique. Even L'Engle writes that the story is that the planter fell in love with her. But L'Engle doesn't mention that he fell in love with her while she was his slave. At least L'Engle's story presents the odd nature of the relationship, that the planter would have his wife serve their white guest, before the women were allowed their own time as friends. There is something strange about that, but the entire relationship must have been an odd balance of power.
     I love that Madeleine L'Engle has a connection to North Florida, and that her family was so good about recording and remembering their own history. My family has been in Florida a long time too, but I'm not so lucky as to have specific stories about my ancestors' lives. Now I have to take The Summer of the Great-Grandmother back to the library!

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Humans of New York World Tour

“She speaks more languages than anyone in the family. Because she plays with all the children in the street.” (Erbil, Iraq)

Humans of New York is the facebook page of a New York photographer who takes portraits of people on the streets - usually of New York City - and selects a poignant quote from an interview with them. The photographer is now on a world tour through the U.N. to take portraits of people in several different countries. I've been hoping he would take his talents to places beyond New York. Here is one of the first portraits, with a quote that fit pretty well with this blog - a multilingual child. I can't wait to see where he goes next. 

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Frozen in Arabic

C is a little too young to be as crazy about Frozen as three-to- thirty-year-old across the world seem to be. She has seen it - or, parts of it - between running around the house and talking to herself she has stopped and watched the musical numbers, even danced a little, before continuing to another room to pull things off shelves and climb on chairs.

I enjoyed this article from the New Yorker: Translating Frozen into Arabic by Elias Muhanna. Frozen was translated into 41 different languages. By comparison, The Lion King was only translated into 15 at the time it was released. Some languages even get several versions - there is a Brazilian Frozen as well as a Continental Portuguese version. There is a Latin American version with a Mexican accent as well as a Castellano version. Usually, Muhanna explains, the Egyptian accent is chosen for the Arabic version of Disney movies. Inexplicably, Frozen has been translated into Modern Standard Arabic, aka Classical Arabic and people are upset. She makes a good point, that if Canadian French gets its own version of Frozen, why is there only one Arabic version for children from Morocco to Saudi Arabia? 

I also liked how Muhanna explained dubbing as translation in four dimensions. Not only does one have to consider the translation of the words, but also the cultural jokes, the music, matching the words to the characters' mouths in the time alotted by the animation. What a task!

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Most Commonly Spoken Languages Other than English or Spanish

Read the full article by Ben Blatt over at Slate

This is fun! Author Ben Blatt from State decided to have some fun with maps. I wonder if he used GIS? He used the Census Bureau's American Community Survey to map out the most widely spoken languages in the U.S. by state. He starts with langugages other than English and got the map above. Not surprising, Spanish is the most common second language in the majority of states. 

Then, he threw out Spanish and mapped the second-most widely spoken languages. The results are in the map below:

Wow! Portuguese is going strong in Massachusetts and Rhode Island. This makes sense - I've often heard it quipped that there are more Cape Verdeans in Massachusetts than in the Cape Verde Islands. There is a long history of Portuguese immigration to the Northeast, followed by Cape Verdeans and Brazilians. It is interesting, and heartening to see that in some states Native American languages are widely spoken. 

Pulling out Spanish was such a great idea. It helps to see the linguistic diversity of the U.S. and geographic and historical trends in immigration. Look at Florida. Most people assume all immigrants to Florida are least Spanish-speakers - and if they provide services in Spanish, they are golden. But we also have a large Haitian population, that often gets looked over when companies and agencies are providing linguistic services. 

Read the full article by Ben Blatt over at Slate

Friday, May 16, 2014

NYT: When Not to Speak Your Second Language to Your Children?

This was an interesting NYT essay: When not to speak your second language to your children? by Jim Kling. To summarize his story, his wife is from the Philippines and bilingual in Tagalog and English. He is learning Tagalog, with "modest success." He thought it would be a good idea to practice his Tagalog with his infant daughter and spoke to her as much as he could is Tagalog -  until he attended a lecture by Erika Hoff:

"When Erika Hoff, a professor of psychology at Florida Atlantic University, spoke about her studies of Spanish-speaking immigrants who spoke English to their children in hopes of better preparing them for school, one of her conclusions took me aback. She found that children whose native Spanish-speaking parents spoke primarily English benefited very little from this input. They picked up most of their English proficiency from native English speakers whom they encountered outside the family. On the other hand, when native Spanish-speaking parents spoke predominantly Spanish, the children received a big boost in their proficiency at Spanish."

With this information, Kling goes home and decides that he should no longer speak to his daughter in Tagalog and should focus on her English. His wife agreed with him, worried that he might confuse their daughter and  that their daughter would eventually ask "Why does Papa talk funny?"

It sounds like Kling's Tagalog may have been really, really bad, in which case, maybe this was the better decision. But I have to say I disagree with his interpretation of Hoff's research. He seems to think he can compare his family's language situation to that of Hoff's research subjects. But I think they are very different. 

Hoff's research was with Spanish-speaking immigrants to the U.S. Those who spoke to their children in English, which was not their native language, didn't necessarily harm their children's English, even if it was poor English, because those children would be exposed to standard English at school, in the media, in the culture at large. But it did harm their Spanish by not giving them enough exposure to become fluent. Those parents who spoke to their children in Spanish gave them the gift of being bilingual in both the culturally dominant language (English) and their heritage langauge (Spanish). What I am taking away from this research is that it is always more beneficial for parents to give their child a second language.  

Kling's family language situation is different in that there is already at least one native English-speaker in the household (Kling himself) and English is also presumably the language of the marriage. Kling's wife speaks to their daughter in Tagalog, and that's good. But it is sad that she discouraged her husband from speaking to their daughter in Tagalog too, even if he only knew a few words. At some point, their daughter is going to realize English is the dominant language and it might be nice to have reinforcement from her husband, even if it is only with basic vocabulary like colors, numbers and animals. 

I think Kling has misunderstood part of the research -  speaking to his daughter in Tagalog wasn't going to hurt her Tagalog and it wasn't going to hurt her English either. If she lives in the U.S., she was never going to not be fluent in English just because she might hear Tagalog more than English in the home. But if she doesn't get enough exposure to Tagalog, she might never be fluent in her heritage language. 

My view is that any exposure is good, even if it isn't perfect. I think I have to believe this, seeing that I'm teaching my daughter Portuguese even though it isn't my first language and I know I occasionally make mistakes. My husband's Portuguese is more than "modest", but he seems to be reluctant to speak it to C. I do wish he would at least give me reinforcement with basic baby vocabulary. I hate to be the language police and try to dictate who speaks what...but I'm not the least bit worried about C's exposure to English - we live in America! Our parents speak English to her! But I do worry about her Portuguese. I need to make some Brazilian friends soon, or she might start to rebel, and might one day ask "Why does Mama talk funny?"

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Watching Devious Maids En Español

So, here's my secret: I really like Devious Maids.

Just before it premiered in 2013 I remember that there was a lot of criticism about the show. It disappointed many that the first time a US tv show would have an all-Latina lead cast would be a show about maids. Devious ones at that.

The death of Lupe Ontiveros in 2012 seemed prescient to the debate. In her obituary in the NYT, the number 150 stands out. It is the low estimate of the number of times she played a maid on screen. I will always remember her turn as "Nacha", a maid in "El Norte", which we watched in my high school Spanish class, over and over. She also played the maid in "The Goonies," antagonized by the butchered Spanish of Corey Feldman. The obituary alludes to her efforts to break the stereotype and play more dynamic roles. She is quoted as stating that if she performed an audition in perfect English, she wouldn't get the part - an issue Sofia Vergara probably faces even today, despite not playing the maid on Modern Family.

150 times. That is the context to the criticism: as Latinas so often already play maids in US entertainment, why couldn't this show be different? Why couldn't this show present Latinas as doctors or lawyers? Eva Longoria, a producer of the show, wrote an essay on the Huffington Post responding to this criticism directly. As she points out, isn't it also important to tell the stories of maids from their perspective? Aren't their stories valuable too?

Of course, one twist in the plot is that not all five lead characters are actually maids. One is a lawyer disguiding herself as a maid to unravel the dirty secrets of the white people who employ them. Another is an aspiring singer. But that's an aside. I wanted to write about the experience of watching Devious Maids en español and how it completely changes this context of US racism, stereotypes and typecasting.

I watched the first season of Devious Maids on Hulu, dubbed in Spanish. I felt that, since the storyline is a little fluffy and very over-the-top, it might be fun to practice my Spanish comprehension while enjoying this guilty pleasure. It wasn't so far-fetched to imagine that the five Latina lead characters were speaking Spanish - they do occasionally throw in a little Spanish in the English version. I believe all of the actresses speak Spanish fluently. But the dynamics between maid and employer shift significantly when everyone is speaking Spanish. Suddenly, the story could be set anywhere - Miami, Mexico City, Caracas. It is very grounded however, in the idea that this is Beverly Hills culture: white, rich, elitist. But, you don't think there are white, rich, elitist people living in Beverly Hills who also happen to speak Spanish and happen to be from Latin America? When you hear her speaking Spanish (even though it is only dubbed) can't you imagine the red-haired, dark-eyed Perri Westmore as a telenovela star? Or Susan Lucci as an ex-beauty queen from Venezuela? Evelyn Powell serves a similar role on the show as the Dowager Countess on Downton Abbey by delivering one-liners that make the wealthy seem out of touch with the real world. When she is dubbed in Spanish, you could easily imagine her as the kind of evil villain that rules late-night Univisión. 

Most Americans are confused by the differences between race and ethnicity and have a hard time contemplating that someone could be both white and Latino. Or black and Latino. Or any other combination of race, nationality and ethnicity. But all Latin American countries have populations of mixed ancestry. It is perfectly reasonable to pretend that when Susan Lucci is dubbed in Spanish, she might really be Latina.

In English, Devious Maids has a Latina Maid vs.White American Employer set up. When you watch in Spanish, you can almost take ethnicity out of the equation. You could pretend that, as everyone is speaking Spanish, they are all Latinos, maids and employers alike. They could, in theory, be from the same Latin American country. The employers could be immigrants themselves. Then you are left with race and class. The maids have varying skin tones. The employers, in the first season, were mostly white, with the exception of Alejandro - the Latin Music Pop star. All of the employers are filthy rich - that's why they live in Beverly Hills!

 Watching Devious Maids in Spanish takes out the discrimination based on ethnicity and brings to the forefront discrimination based on race and class. It's structure really is much like that of a traditional telenovela with the white actors playing the wealthy and powerful and the people of color playing their servants. In Devious Maids there is one big difference: the story is told from the point of view of the maids, not the employers. This is what makes the show such a breakthrough.

Now, in the second season, you have a wealthy black family who employs Rosie as a caregiver. You have the Russian maid, Odessa, upset by Carmen's ascendance to Alejandro's (fake) girlfriend. You have the Powell family (briefly) employing a Lebanese maid, rather than Latina. And Marisol isn't even pretending to be a maid anymore. 

*While I'm enjoying the second season, unfortunately, Hulu doesn't seem to be offering it in Spanish anymore. It really does change the whole experience!

Friday, April 25, 2014

5 Ways Springtime Tallahassee Could Be Better

The Springtime Tallahassee Parade 2014 was March 29th. Tyree and I take our parades very seriously. Having enjoyed three Carnival Seasons in New Orleans, we know what makes a successful parade, and what does not. Springtime Tallahassee began in 1967 as a way to show civic pride in the State's Capital. In my opinion, as someone who loves her hometown, they could do better. 

Springtime Tallahassee doesn't need to copy Mardi Gras to be fun, but it could use a few pointers. And more alcohol. 

1. More Marching Bands!

At this year's parade we saw only one marching band, Shanks Middle School from Gadsden County - and they did a great job revving up the crowd. But then they kept marching and the techno music blasting from the Gasparilla floats was just not cutting it. I heard a rumor that Lincoln's marching band was somewhere downtown that morning, but if they weren't marching in the parade what was the point? Parades need energy from the crowd and live marching bands serve to get people excited - that's why they play at football games. Having local student bands play reinforces community spirit. So, where were the middle school and high school bands? Where were the FSU and FAMU bands for that matter? Is FAMU too good to play at Springtime Tallahassee? Having played Purple Rain in the Rain with Prince for a Super Bowl Halftime Show, yes, probably they are too good for us.  

2. Less Racism!

Springtime Tallahassee has always had a racism problem. Wikipedia states there are five "krewes" involved in the Springtime parade (which is kind of laughable when you think that in New Orleans each krewe gets its own parade). The Spanish Krewe, American Territorial Krewe, Antebellum Krewe, War and Reconstruction Krewe, and the Century Krewe. These were developed in 1971 and are meant to show different phases of Florida's history. Except that what they do is highlight Florida's racist past. So, there is a Spanish Krewe, but no mention of Florida's Native Americans? There is the Antebellum Krewe, which hides slavery behind hoop skirts. War and Reconstruction - yes! a lovely era in our history. Makes me think of burnt out plantation homes, poverty and the birth of Jim Crow legislation. And then all the progress and civil rights gains washed over by the Century Krewe. Most controversial of all, Andrew Jackson always makes some sort of appearance as well. This has routinely been protested by Native American groups as insensitive to Jackson's fatal history with their ancestors - yet he is always there!

Tallahassee's population is 60% White, 34% Black and 4% Hispanic. But based on the historical highlights chosen to represent our state, it's clear who got to do the choosing. If the idea behind the parade is to make people feel proud of being from Tallahassee and to give a sense of community spirit, then maybe we should do away with some of the divisive imagery and create more inclusive themes for the Krewes. It is possible to both love your state and accept that the Antebellum period doesn't need to be romanticized anymore. Or that Jackson was racist and really doesn't need to cast his shadow on such a lovely spring day. 

And, just so you know I don't think Mardi Gras is perfect, here is an older blog post about race and gender roles in Mardi Gras parades:

3. Let the floats go down the middle of the street!

Even though all of Monroe street is blocked off, the floats ride on the right side of the street. Why? This means there is a good side and a bad side to watch the parade from. We were standing on the wrong side. It is harder to interact with the floats, harder to catch beads, harder to get into the spirit. And it's just dumb when there isn't any oncoming traffic.

4. TPD needs to chill out! 

Part of what makes Mardi Gras such a fun experience is the interaction between the crowds and the people on the floats. You can walk right up to the floats, talk to the masked riders, tell them which beads you want. For some reason there is a rule at Springtime that you are not allowed to be anywhere near the floats. And the people riding on the floats are not allowed to interact with the crowd, not allowed to toss any throws, beads or candy. They have people walk along the sides passing things out, but usually they are so busy trying to keep pace with their group, there is no time to talk, or dance, or share a drink. Sigh. When a spectator gets too close to a float, as in the picture above, TPD swarms in and kills the fun. This officer was on a mission to make the family to the right go back to the sidewalk on the off chance that float, riding at 10 miles per hour and 20 feet away from them might pull them under. 

5. Be more generous with the throws!

Again, I understand that Springtime is and never will be Mardi Gras. But if they are going to pass out beads and candy, they could be a little more generous. In New Orleans, a general rule for parading is that if it falls on the ground, you don't touch it, because they are going to throw more. You can't go to Mardi Gras and walk away without being covered in beads. But in Tallahassee, they pass out their beads one at a time, and as there is this bizarre rule about not interacting with people, they often throw the beads directly on the ground. WTH? And, because Tallahassee children have not grown up being showered with beads every year, they will actually pick them up off the ground, even out of the gutter. That's just sad. 

Hopefully someone will hear me! Springtime Tallahassee could be so much better!

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