Hector Pieterson (Soweto, South Africa)

Umbiswa Makhubo carries the body of Hector Pieterson, photographed by Sam Nzima. Photograph: Sam Nzima/Archive


Hector Pieterson (Soweto, South Africa): I was 12 years old in 1976, when the South African police killed me on June 16. The colonial government decided that blacks would be educated in Afrikaans, the language of white Afrikaners in South Africa. It’s a language that was used by the rulers, and black children hated Afrikaans. Most of our teachers didn’t even know Afrikaans, so many of us failed our classes because we didn’t understand the language. We didn’t want to speak the language anyway because it was the language of the South African government, our oppressors. We became frustrated by our teachers’ and parents’ inability to change the system, so groups of students formed our own meetings in March 1976. We started slowdowns and class boycotts. On June 16, between 10,000 and 15,000 students left their schools and marched in the streets of Soweto, a black township near Johannesburg. We sang the song “Senzeni na?” (“What have we done?”), and carried signs that said, “Away with Afrikaans” as we made our way towards Orlando Stadium. Before we reached our destination, the police opened fire on us.


Hector Pieterson (Soweto, South Africa): I was 12 years old in 1976, when the South African police killed me on June 16. The colonial government decided that blacks would be educated in Afrikaans, the language of white Afrikaners in South Africa. It’s a language that was used by the rulers, and black children hated Afrikaans. Most of our teachers didn’t even know Afrikaans, so many of us failed our classes because we didn’t understand the language. We didn’t want to speak the language anyway because it was the language of the South African government, our oppressors. We became frustrated because our teachers and parents were not able to change this system. Groups of students formed our own meetings in March 1976.  We refused to go to school in class boycotts.  On June 16, between 10,000 and 15,000 students left their schools and marched in the streets of Soweto, a black city near the capital.  We sang the song “Senzeni na?” (“What have we done?”) and carried signs that said, “Away with Afrikaans” as we marched.  The police fired guns at us before we could reach our destination.


Hector Pieterson (Soweto, South Africa):

On June 16, 1976 I was killed by the police.  I was 12 years old.

I am from South Africa.

White people in South Africa spoke Afrikaans.

The colonial government decided that black people would speak Afrikaans too.

The rulers also spoke Afrikaans.

No one understood the language, not even the teachers, so we failed our classes.

No one wanted to speak Afrikaans because the government who was oppressing us used this language too.

Parents and teachers were unable to do anything about this.

In March of 1976 students formed meetings, and we boycotted our classes.

On June 16 between 10,000-16,000 students left school and marched in the streets of Soweto.

That is where I was shot and killed.


Damien O’Donovan (Ireland, The Wind That Shakes the Barley)

Damien O’Donovan, played by Cillian Murphy in the 2006 war drama, set during the Irish War of Independence (1919–1921).


Damien O’Donovan (Ireland, The Wind That Shakes the Barley): In 1920, I watched one of my friends, Michael, get beaten to death by the British army for speaking Irish. After the British invaded Ireland and took over, we were forbidden to speak Irish in school. The teachers had a “tally stick,” which they beat us with if they caught us speaking Irish. We didn’t want to speak the language of the people who took over our country. We felt like traitors to our own history when we spoke English. In 1893 an organization called “Conradh na Gaeilge” (the Irish League) was formed to try to keep our language alive. Language is part of our identity. The Irish League wanted to preserve our literary culture as well as our language. They didn’t succeed in stopping the decline of our language, but they instilled pride. “Within twenty years the Irish language was inextricably linked to the question of Irish independence. ‘Ni tír gan teanga’ (‘without a language you have no country’) was the new battle cry of the men and women who fought for independence in 1916. When freedom finally came, the Irish language was designated the first official language of the new nation.”


Damien O’Donovan (Ireland, The Wind That Shakes the Barley): In 1920, I watched one of my friends, Michael, get beaten to death by the British army for speaking Irish.  After the British invaded Ireland and took over, we were forbidden to speak Irish in schools.  The teachers beat us every time we spoke Irish.  We didn’t want to speak the language of the people who took over our country. We felt like traitors when we spoke English.  In 1893 an organization was formed to keep our language alive. Language is part of our identity.  As we fought for Irish independence, our battle cry was, “Without a language you have no country.”  When we finally achieved freedom, Irish became the first official language of the new nation.


Damien O’Donovan (Ireland, The Wind That Shakes the Barley):

I am Irish.

In 1920 the British army killed my friend Michael for speaking Irish.

After the British invaded Ireland we were not allowed to speak Irish in school.

We were beat every time we spoke Irish.

We did not want to speak English because it was the language of the people who took over our country.

We felt like traitors when we spoke English.

In 1893 an organization was formed to keep our language alive.

Language is part of our identity.

We fought for Irish independence.  Our battle cry was, “Without a language you have no country.”

When we achieved freedom, Irish became the first official language of our new nation.


Gloria Anzaldúa (Texas, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza)

Gloria Anzaldúa, photo Annie Valva


Gloria Anzaldúa (Texas, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza): I am a Tejana Chicana. I grew up in Texas near the Mexican border. When I was a child, my teacher hit me when I spoke Spanish at recess. When I was a student at the Pan American University, I, and all Chicano students, were required to take two speech classes to get rid of our accents. Instead of giving up my language, I used my Chicano English to talk back. My language is my identity. Until I can be proud when I speak my language, I cannot take pride in myself. Until I am free to write bilingually and to code-switch without having always to translate, I cannot take pride in myself. I will no longer be made to feel ashamed for existing. I will have my voice: Indian, Spanish, white. I will have my serpent’s tongue—my woman’s voice, my sexual voice, my poet’s voice. I will overcome the tradition of silence.


Gloria Anzaldúa (Texas, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza): I am a Chicana, or Mexican American. I grew up in Texas near the Mexican border.  When I was a child, my teacher hit me when I spoke Spanish at recess.  When I was a student at the Pan American University, I, and all Chicano students, were required to take two speech classes to get rid of our accents.  Instead of giving up my language, I used my Chicano English to talk back.  My language is my identity. Until I can be proud when I speak my language, I cannot take pride in myself.  Until I can write bilingually and code-switch without translating, I cannot take pride in myself.  I will overcome the tradition of silence.


Gloria Anzaldúa (Texas, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza):

I am a Chicana or Mexican American.

I grew up in Texas near the Mexican border.

When I was a child, my teacher hit me when I spoke Spanish at recess.

When I was at College, at Pan American University, Chicano students were required to take two speech classes to get rid of our accents.

I did not give up my language.  I used Chicano English to talk back.

My language is my identity.

I cannot take pride in myself until I am proud to speak my language.

I will overcome the tradition of silence.


Joe Suina (New Mexico, “And Then I Went to School”)

Joseph Henry Suina grew up in Cochiti Pueblo, New Mexico, an Indian reservation where he still has his home.

Joe Suina (New Mexico, “And Then I Went to School”): I am a professor in the department of Curriculum and Instruction at University of New Mexico. I grew up in a Pueblo home with my grandmother until I was 6. Then I was sent to school, which was a painful experience. I was told, “Leave your Indian at home.” When I spoke the language that my grandmother and I sang and prayed in, I was punished with a dirty look or a whack with a ruler. In school I was taught that the way my grandmother spoke was not right. I learned that my people were not right. Unfortunately, I was taught to be ashamed of my language and my home. I was one of many indigenous people whose language and culture were stripped so we could assimilate into the dominant culture.


Joe Suina (New Mexico, “And Then I Went to School”): I am a professor at the University of New Mexico. I grew up in a Pueblo home with my grandmother until I was six. Then I was sent to school, which was a painful experience. I was told, “Leave your Indian at home.” When I spoke the language that my grandmother and I sang and prayed in, I was punished with a dirty look or a whack with a ruler. In school I was taught that the way my grandmother spoke was not right.  I learned that my people were not right. Unfortunately, I was taught to be ashamed of my language and home. I was one of many indigenous people whose language culture was stripped so we could assimilate into the dominant, or powerful, culture.


Joe Suina (New Mexico, “And Then I Went to School”):

I am a Pueblo Indian.

I grew up in a Pueblo home in New Mexico, with my grandmother until I was six.

I was sent to school, which was a painful experience. I was told, “Leave your Indian at home.”

I was punished with a dirty look or a whack with a ruler when I spoke the language of my family.

I was taught in school that the way my grandmother spoke was not right.

I learned that my people were not right.

I was taught to be ashamed of my language and home.

I was one of many indigenous people whose language and culture was stripped.

We were forced to assimilate into the dominant, or powerful, culture.

I am now a professor at the University of New Mexico.


Lois-Ann Yamanaka (Hawai’i, “Obituary”)

Pidgin Talk Story with Lois-Ann Yamanaka at the University of Hawaii.

Lois-Ann Yamanaka (Hawai’i, “Obituary”): I was raised in Pahala, a sugar plantation town on the Big Island of Hawai’i. I write my poems and stories in Pidgin instead of Standard English because I cherish the language, culture, and people I grew up with. With my stories, I fight back against the teachers who told me I would never make it if I spoke Pidgin. If I stopped speaking my language, I would be cutting my ties to my home and relatives, my family gatherings, the foods prepared and eaten by my people, and I would change my relationships to friends and neighbors. I grew up with the sound of Pidgin in my own mouth, in my own writing. When I spoke it and wrote it, I discovered the institutional racism so profound in generations of us here in Hawai’i that we cannot even smell it for what it is.


Lois-Ann Yamanaka (Hawai’i, “Obituary”): I was raised on a sugar plantation in Hawai’i.  I write poems and stories in Pidgin instead of Standard English because I cherish the language, culture, and people I grew up with.  With my stories, I fight back against the teachers who told me I would never make it if I spoke Pidgin.  If I stopped speaking my language, I would be cutting my ties to my home and relatives, my family gatherings, the foods prepared and eaten by my people and I would change my relationships to friends and neighbors.  I grew up with the sound of Pidgin in my own mouth, in my own writing.


Lois-Ann Yamanaka (Hawai’i, “Obituary”):

I was raised on a sugar plantation in Hawai’i.

I write poems and stories in Pidgin, not standard English.

I really value my language, culture, and people.

I use my stories to fight back against my teachers.

My teachers told me I would never make it if I spoke Pidgin.

If I stopped speaking my language, I would be disconnecting myself from my relatives, family, and foods from my culture.

I would change my relationships to friends and neighbors without my language.

I grew up with the sound of Pidgin in my voice and my writing.


Molly Craig (Australia, Rabbit-Proof Fence)

Rabbit-Proof Fence (2002), directed by Phillip Noyce, is a powerful and assertive film version of this tragedy. Based on three real-life indigenous survivors of this era, known collectively as the Stolen Generation, the film is set in 1931 and tells the story of three young girls who were kidnapped on the government’s authority, forced into an “aboriginal integration” program 1,200 miles from home, and who are determined to run away and make it home on their own by following the fence.

Molly Craig (Australia, Rabbit-Proof Fence): When I was 14 years old, my sister, my cousin, and I were stolen from our family in Jigalong, Australia, and taken to the Moore River Native Settlement—an internment camp for mixed-race Aboriginal children. Here, we were taught that our language, our culture, our religion, our parents were bad and everything British was good. Here, my native tongue—Mardujara—was beaten out of me. The government believed that “mixed” Aboriginal children were smarter than their darker relatives. They believed we should be taken from the bad influence of our families and should be isolated and trained as maids and day laborers. As one Australian official said, “We have power under the Act to take any child from its mother at any stage of its life….Are we going to have a population of one million blacks in the Commonwealth or are we going to merge them into our white community and eventually forget that there ever were any Aborigines in Australia?” I walked 1,000 miles home along the rabbit-proof fence, carrying my little sister much of the way. Later, my children were stolen from me and taken to the Settlement. They were told they were orphans.


Molly Craig (Australia, Rabbit-Proof Fence): When I was 14 years old, my sister, my cousin and I were stolen from our family in Jigalong, Australia, and taken to the Moore River Native Settlement.  This was an internment camp for mixed-race Aboriginal children.  Here, we were taught that our language, our culture, our religion, and our parents were bad and everything British was good. Here, my native tongue was beaten out of me.  The government believed that mixed-race Aboriginal children were smarter than their darker relatives.  They believed that we should be taken away from the bad influence of our families and should be isolated and trained as maids and day laborers.  I walked 1000 miles home along a fence, carrying my little sister much of the way.  Later, my children were stolen from me.  They were told they were orphans.


Molly Craig (Australia, Rabbit-Proof Fence):

I am from Jigalong, Australia.

When I was 14 years old, my sister, cousin, and I were stolen from our family.

We were taken to Moore River Native Settlement.  Moore River Native Settlement was an internment camp for mixed-race Aboriginal children.

At this settlement, we were taught that our language, our culture, our religion, and our parents were bad.

We were also taught that everything British was good.

My native tongue was beaten out of me.

The government believed that mixed-race Aboriginal children were smarter than their darker relatives.

The government believed that we should be taken away from the bad influence of our families and should be isolated.

They thought that we should be trained as maids and day laborers.

I walked 1000 miles home along a fence.  I had to carry my little sister most of the walk.

Later my children were stolen from me and told they were orphans.


Carmen Lomas Garza (Texas, A Piece of My Heart/Pedacito de mi corazón)

Smithsonian Latino Center’s Papel Picado tutorial with Carmen Lomas Garza.

Carmen Lomas Garza (Texas, A Piece of My Heart/Pedacito de mi corazón): I grew up in Texas in the 1950s. “When I was five years old my brother came home crying from the first grade in public school on the third day of classes because the teacher had punished him for speaking Spanish. She had made him hold out his hands, palms down, and then hit him with a ruler across the top of his hands.” I was afraid to go to school because I didn’t want to be beaten for speaking my language. Later, I was punished or ridiculed for my accent and made to feel ashamed. I wondered why white students were praised for learning a new language and practicing their Spanish in the halls, but Mexican American students were punished for doing the same. “By the time I graduated from high school I was confused, depressed, introverted, and quite angry.”


Carmen Lomas Garza (Texas, A Piece of My Heart/Pedacito de mi corazón): I grew up in Texas in the 1950s.  When I was 5 years old, my brother came home crying on the third day of class in the first grade because his teacher had punished him for speaking Spanish.  She had made him hold out his hands, palms down, and then hit him with a ruler across the top of his hands.  I was afraid to go to school because I didn’t want to be beaten for speaking my language.  Later, I was punished or ridiculed for my accent and made to feel ashamed.  I wondered why white students were praised for learning a new language and practicing Spanish in the halls, but Mexican American students were punished for doing the same.  By the time I graduated from high school I was confused, depressed, introverted, and quite angry.  I released many of these emotions in my artwork.


Carmen Lomas Garza (Texas, A Piece of My Heart/Pedacito de mi corazón):

I am from Texas.

I am Mexican American.

I grew up in the 1950’s.

When I was 5 years old, my brother came home crying from school.  It was his third day of class in the first grade. He was crying because his teacher had punished him for speaking Spanish.His teacher, had made him hold out his hands, palms down, and then hit him with a ruler across the top of his hands.

I was afraid to go to school because I didn’t want to be beaten for speaking my language.

Later, when I went to school, I was punished for my accent and made to feel ashamed.

I wondered why white students were praised for learning a new language and practicing Spanish in the halls but Mexican American students were punished for doing the same.

By the time I graduated from high school I was confused, depressed, introverted, and quite angry.

I became an artist and released many of these emotions in my artwork.


 

CC BY-SA 4.0 Language and Power Tea Party by Paul is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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