June 23, 2016
by Camila Justino
Dear English language,
Sometimes you look at me with this look, as though you know everything. Indeed, you know. Everything is ruled by you. The laws, the signs, and the human thoughts of this land. I try to touch you; you have this nice sound, you are a super star, the Hollywood celebrities use you, you travel the world leading hits that make people cheer even not knowing you well. Sometimes I wish you were part of me, but you keep being a strange body.
We don’t belong to each other, we don’t have this intimacy but still, you are very close to me, you are waves inside my body and you claim and attack my mother tongue for every failure. Sometimes you have moments of saying particular things in my head.
How could you write using me, you don’t know how to channel me.
Then you ask me to stop using you so vaguely, so poorly.
You are an immigrant.
You repeat this over and over.
Sometimes you say you are beautiful, and I get surprised, and suddenly I realize its not really you, it’s the song I listen to on the radio.
You name me an immigrant and when I am an immigrant I am nothing else.
An immigrant exists to be a character, or to be a cover on newspapers (with a suffering face, in a suffering manner), or to be on the cover of The Immigrant Woman Magazine, or to be part of the statistics (how many of them do we have here?), or to be studied in university, or to be a theme for a conference, or to be helped by non-governmental organizations, or to be interviewed for institutional videos, or to be helped by the church, or to be a beneficiary of governmental budget, or to receive honours on TV, or to be included in politicians’ speeches, or to be represented in human rights books. You keep saying it. And when I try to defend myself, when I try to say I am not only this, you run away. You put a lot of ideas in my mind and then vanish.
Ha ha! you laugh at me in these moments. I gently gave you this label, you whisper to me. Think well, what would you be without me giving you this label? It’s for the best, take advantage of being an immigrant.
You are harsh, but then you say I am doing a great job. You probably say this after feeling sorry for me. You suddenly change, you become polite and try to not compare me with who is from here, who can use you with fluency. It is easier to feel sorry for me. I accept all your words because I don’t know how to argue with you. I would like to say that I hate when you tell me I am doing a great job.
I am admired for virtues that I will never understand, living all the circumstance of leaving a motherland, being a crushed woman with a half part left in my land, walking around with a deformed language as a cane. I am like broken glass and you put together all the pieces the way you want. You come at night with my tiredness and loneliness offering a well-done glitter sticker. Because I know how to scrub the floor very well, because I lack language and money.
In the morning, when you ask Tim Horton’s coffee to be suitable and functional, you say I wasn’t born to write my own stories using you, let someone else do it for you as you are more noble. Get a translator. You keep knocking on me, you are like a serpent, you escape when I try to speak or write using you. You come and you leave.
Sometimes I try to ignore you. I breathe with relief and my mother tongue comes back with her warm words, she hugs me but then she says its for the best if she leaves me.
English is not so bad, she tells me, he is objective and also has a very good humour, he loves you in a different way, but he does love you.
I tell my mother tongue you accuse her of every failure, but she says you have your own reasons.
Do you know tough love? She says with a funny accent.
Tough love is an expression that can’t be translated to my mother tongue, but she guesses the meaning with her intuition.
Tough love, that’s what English feels for you.
She comes to visit me less and less, for my own good. I have saudade, a word followed by a feeling that can’t be translated exactly to you, but I can tell you it is a verb that means empty of somebody that fulfills you somehow. Maybe one day you and my mother tongue will get along.
I feel empty. Sometimes I call you or mother, but you are not there. Why? I have visited this limbo many times, there is no language at all. Where are you guys?
With no language I use the signs. I pay attention on eyes, mouth, bodies, lines, objects. If they are smiling I just keep smiling, and follow the tones to survive. And be grateful, don’t forget you are in their land. Don’t forget you got the permission to live (to survive) here.
Giving me permission to stay in a safe part of the planet is a favour. And an obligation. I am a good argument for human rights.
You both keep providing me with cute speeches, but when I need you, at least one of you is always gone. I don’t like these games. And since my mother tongue left for a while with no sign of return, I am telling you that I am not accepting this anymore.
It took me a while to write this letter. I had these secret words, but I didn’t know how to tell you. You will ask: how could I save hidden words from you? I decided to not be your servant anymore.
If you want to stay with me, stay truly. I am owning this space—my brain, my mind, my body. And if you want to fool around, or if you want to represent me as a fool I will laugh at you out loud. I will say Ha ha, it’s not me, it’s the English who is fooling around me.
And don’t be surprised if I say words that you don’t want to say. Don’t feel surprised if I don’t repeat things you ask me to repeat.
No, I don’t want to be translated in the community centre, or in the doctor’s office, and I will not say Sorry, I don’t speak English.
I will say Sorry, English is learning how to go through me.
And if you disappear again, I will say Sorry, English is gone, you know… he likes to play games sometimes.
I will not cover your games. Not this time, silly.
I don’t want to be represented by a class or by a label chosen by you. I am not just an immigrant. I am not just a woman, a mother, or a man. I am all of it. I am none. I am not a character. I am writing you!
Do you understand, English?
You know who