I still remember an article I read several years ago about an informal ‘competition’ among Korean Culture Schools about who was teaching the ‘right’ traditions. As immigrant parents strove to teach their US born children about their cultural heritage, there was concern about consistency and capturing the ‘real culture’ of their…culture.
Indeed, when I was in charge of exhibits and events at Chicago’s airports we hosted an annual Children’s International Dance Fest, and it was most often first-generation children enrolled in cultural schools who performed, from cultural traditions representing Cambodia, Mexico, Ireland, the Philippines and more. I always found it interesting from an ‘urban anthropology’ perspective, looking at culture as something that is culled to its physical manifestations and taught in a school (as opposed to something that is somehow inalienably tied to you). How does that change one’s sense of cultural identity?
But this one today was particularly interesting as relates to cultural identity and the idea of language at the core of identity: I met a woman who “could not pronounce her name correctly.” I had trouble understanding her name when she said it. I asked her to spell it, to help me pronounce and remember it better, and she admitted “actually, I don’t say it right either. It’s a Hindi word. My parents say it differently than me, and when I meet people born in India they are always correcting me.”
Can you correct someone’s pronunciation of their own name when they are the one telling you it? Which pronunciation is ‘right’? Is it the same as when you go to another country and people pronounce your name differently, or is there something more deeply connected to our ‘hyphenated’ identities, as customs and language change over time in a new setting?