Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Cultural Hybridity or Confusion?

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On the surface, there is no reason for my child to grow up culutrally confused or hybrid (I am not suggesting hybridity equates with confusion, I am asking myself which one my child is.).

She was born in Egypt to fully Egyptian parents of Egyptian parents, who grew up in Arab countries. My husband and I have lived very little of our lives in English-speaking countries, all of it as adults, a total of less than 3 years.

And yet here was my almost 4-year-old yday. She rarely goes out late at night. Yesterday was an exception and streets are full of lighting in celebration of Ramadan. Her reaction? “Look! Christmas lights!”. Oops. Eventually she realized the lights sometimes gave a shape of a lantern, what Egyptians call a “fanous” and consider a symbol of Ramadan (Egyptians are weird that way; I grew up in Kuwait and people there have fewer such symbols/rituals.

What adds to all this confusion are things like this, in the image below I just took of one of her toys:

Yes, it’s a lantern (fanous) with Snow White in it, and when you press a button it flashes red and blue lights and bursts into Ramadan song. It’s all very…incongruous?

Another hilarious East/West thing came in the form of this video shared with me on facebook by a Christian friend and colleague at work – it is of a guy (actually he is a friend of my friends, I don’t know much of his background) singing to the music of the 12 days of Cjristmas but instead he sings, “on the first dayof Ramadan my true love sent to me, a box of Ramadan Yameesh”. He goes all the way til 5 and is hilarious. My girl watched the video so often she started singing it and mixing the original xmas lyrics with the comic ones of the hacked one. Good one for #clmooc I thought. Hacking across cultures or something.

My point is, though, that in some way, in order to teach my daughter English, for her to be bilingual like me, there is a cultural “something” going on, from preschool to reading to pop culture. I don’t want her to grow up thinking she doesnt belong here, even though belonging is not the highest goal to strive towards, when openness to different cultures is cooler. I don’t want her to seem like she comes from some other world, or to lose her identity to another culture, but as Homi Bhabha says, the postcolonial person is not ome coming from a “pure” culture, we are already hybrid (a topic for some other post, particularly as to how intellectuals of a certain region can distort the image of that region because their voices are louder and more eloquent). My girl speaks both Arabic and English almost equally well but her academic language, even at 4 is obviously English (she knows more numbers, colors, animals, etc in English). For some odd reason, when she is putsdie home playing with other kids she tends to sepakin English. I don’t know why. Maybe coz she sees us (my husband and me or mom and me) speaking to each other in English in public to avoid everyone understanding what we are saying? I am not sure. I do so love it (and linguists be damned) when she moxes both languages in one sentence. Like “hay-sleep-o” (they will sleep). Or “ana ool-ing” (i am saying). She is completely capable of saying these sentences in either language. But she’s actually just talking like me 😉 

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