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“Two Ways to Belong in America”-Bharati Mukherjee

The final selection of our class blog is, as many of you have noticed, quite different from our previous readings. Unlike Lederer’s “All-American Dialects”, Baldwin’s “Black English”, and Tan’s “Mother Tongue”, Mukherjee does not explicitly discuss differences in our languages, dialects, or speech communities within American society. Instead, she shares a personal essay about her experience migrating to another country and how it differed from her sister, Mira’s experience. If one read this essay without having studied speech communities, as our class has, he/she probably wouldn’t have made any connection to speech communities. To be honest, at first, I didn’t either, until I recognized the implications of the differing speech communities Bharati and Mira decided to join upon their arrival in America.

Mukherjee(Bharati) explains in India she and Mira were “almost identical in appearance and attitude”. However, in America, Bharati chose to marry outside of her ethnic community, and therefore entered into an entirely different speech community from her sister Mira, who married her ethnic equal and maintained her membership within her Indian culture’s speech community. Because Mira decided to preserve her Indian heritage and lifestyle, she did not desire to become assimilated into American society, but instead wanted to maintain her own identity as an Indian immigrant working in America. Mira did not welcome the new legislation that encouraged legal immigrants to become American citizens like Bharati did. The sisters found themselves viewing their new life through the eyes of  two completely different speech communities. Mukherjee writes “Mira’s voice, I realize, is the voice not just of the immigrant South Asian community but of an immigrant community of the millions who have stayed rooted in one job, one city, one house, one ancestral culture, one cuisine, for the entirety of their productive years”.

Through this selection I’ve learned how much of an impact a speech community can have on one’s identity, not only through language, dialects, and social connections but from ethnicity, culture, lifestyle, and politics. I’ve also gained a new appreciation for diverse cultures from the perspective of immigrants. There’s been a long-standing argument about the “melting pot” versus “tossed salad” debate. Should we encourage immigrants to assimilate to American culture or welcome diversity? I’ve gotten in arguments with my mom several times about this issue. She believes English should be declared America’s “official” language and anyone who chooses to live here needs to learn English rather than try to teach their own language. Although I agree it’d make communication easier if everyone learned English, I welcome the diversity of different languages and want to become fluently bilingual at some point in my life. I understand the perspectives of both Bharati and Mira and appreciate Mukherjee’s essay for expressing both sides of the issue from two completely different speech communities.