Monday, April 13, 2009
Kalamazoo Easter Masala
Last weekend, one of my Kalamazoo cousins attended an Easter egg coloring gathering that fairly exploded with masala points. Besides her Detroit-born-and-bred self, there were the Korean hostess, another American and two Indian-Americans, one born in the U.S., the other born in India but in the U.S. since the age of 4 or 5.
When the other American noticed a pair of oddly shaped dice with Asian characters, it was noted that the characters were Korean numbers. The hostess explained that she still does all counting and math in Korean. She does most other thinking tasks in English, but math and numbers never switched over.
It turned out that the Indian woman who was born outside the U.S. also processes numbers in her native tongue, which is still prominent for her because she has always spoken it with her mother. In fact, both Indian women reported speaking their native language with their mothers, but English with their fathers.
The Indian-born woman married an Indian, but they each speak a different Indian language, never learned each others’ languages, and thus converse in English. When they visit their families they have to constantly translate for one another, which gets annoying because it stalls the conversation.
I experienced that lag when we visited Mowgli’s family. They speak a mish-mash of Telugu and Tamil, so even though I plan to learn Tamil, I’m pretty much out of luck in terms of ever completely understanding them. The occasional English words they toss in, however, are very funny and quite useful in terms of providing context. And my in-laws both speak English, so if my translator isn't around, we can all get by.
Back at the party, the Korean woman, whose husband is American, had the harshest stance on conversation translation: she either walks away or lets her sister translate. She has also been criticized by family members for not coaching her husband on how to properly eat Korean food items that require a bit of inside knowledge. Her position on that is that he has eyes, and he can learn by watching.
The ladies also enjoyed a little Illinois masala, courtesy of a friend of mine at work who knows a group of ladies who make and sell pepper jelly. When I took some to my cousin a few years ago, she became enamored of it and now I serve as her pepper jelly mule whenever I go up there. She brought some to the party and served it with crackers and cream cheese, and it was such a hit that she had to go back home and e-mail out the “Pepper Jelly Ladies” phone number off the jar.