The first chapter/essay is by Joanne Kilgour Dowdy. In this essay she recounts what it was like growing up in Trinidad and her mother insisting she "curse in white", which meant that she always had to be aware that she was playing to a white audience. She states that "there was a white way and a right way." As a middle class child from an influential family, her mother made sure that young Joanne learned to speak the "colonial" tongue.
Dowdy describes a time when she realized the difference between the fantasy of her language and the reality. She was playing cricket with her friends when she hit a ball over a fence. As the other children looked for the ball, she announced "Over there." Her enunciation was perfect. The others just giggled and laughed. Any of the other children would have said "Ovuh dyuh"--sensible, given the language of the island. This incident left an indelible mark on young Joanne.
She goes on to describe how the society in which she grew up taught that if you were to be successful, you were to embrace the "language that was used to enslave you and your forebears. It is a painful strategy for survival, but maybe it is just another facet of the kind of transcendence to which the descendants of kidnapped Africans had to aspire in order to survive the very memory of slavery." (Dowdy, 2002, p. 7)
Dowdy also describes how proud her family, especially her mother and her grandmother, were of her perfect diction and use of the Queen's English. She pleased her teachers as well and saw her role as a way to survive. She was appointed "Head Girl' in high school and found that she and the other "Head Girls" could use their positions to begin to assert their "Afrocentric" identities and reclaim a part of who they were and are.
During high school, she became an actress on TV and worked to produce short skits for a local show where she could use her Trinidadian language. The result was not quite what she expected. She found that in the realm of a television show, she could be who she was and speak Trinidadian but in her "real life", she still had to use the "colonizer's language." She states that "as a result of my acting life, I came to understand that the colonizer only valued the native language of the colonized in the realm of entertainment." (p. 11)
Dowdy discusses how there is a mental conflict between the mother tongue and the master discourse. In public life, "the value given to the patriarch's tongue, the master discourse, always supersedes that given to the matriarch. The 'language of intimacy,' as Richard Rodriguez calls it, has no place in the public arena." (p. 12). She goes on to describe how a confident individual can go on to function in the dominate culture, but begin to develop doubt and disappointment. What she hears in her head conflicts with what is produced in her throat. Dowdy suggested that the confident individual must find a way to reclaim who she is and suggests that one day, "mothers will no longer have to force their children to act like strangers among their elders." (p. 13) That children will be a part of reclaiming community and the language of that community.
As a monolingual speaker of my culture's dominate language, I appreciate the perspective that is given by Dowdy. I really don't have anything to compare her struggle to. I am finding that I agree with her statements more out of logic than out of passion--again because I don't have a reflection in the mirror that is being held up to me. I want to understand and work to help the children reclaim who they are through their language and their voice. I do want to be passionate and be an advocate for first language speakers. Is that my role or do I just step aside and let it happen? I don't really know what I should do.