Language has always been present in my life, whether it was through my weekend religious school, home, or English Language Learning (ELL) programs in elementary school. I grew up primarily speaking English, but still had a big presence of the Somali language in my upbringing. My mother always spoke to us in somali, but after my siblings and I started to attend school, it soon became natural to respond to her in English. In school, language has always been either a problem or a solution in my experience. To teachers and administrators, my Somali tongue was viewed as a problem that needed to be solved immediately, especially with the immigration wave of Somali immigrants to Lewiston, Maine in 2002. Throughout my educational journey, I’ve began to appreciate my bilingualism, heritage, and self worth.
At the start of my education in kindergarten, I was put into the ELL program because of the assumed need of English language learning. As a native Somali student, the meaning of language consistently changed; from resenting my Somali culture and people in an attempt to fit into trying to speak “articulately” to prove some sort of linguistic worth, my experiences with language in secondary school was almost always at a crossroad. However, as I grew into my cultures and languages, I gained a sense of belonging to all of the languages I speak, whether that is the language I spoke to my parents, to the language I have adopted through my friends. I am actively trying to learn more of the Somali language, because the only solution I found in my bilingual education was to push out my mother tongue.
Bilingualism in education should not be viewed as an issue, but currently, that is the root of how it is perceived. That perception that speaking another isn’t something to be celebrated nor proud of is enforced through many bilingual education programs, and that perception needs to be shifted through critical thinking about language, the power language holds, and whose languages were valuing in our education system.
There are millions of people who are far different from me with their own individuality, uniqueness, and character. No one in the world is exactly the same, but in the end of the day we are all going to love someone, embrace the same air, and laugh in the same language. In all that creativity and craziness, I too can stand out with my multilingual beauty.