When Learning a Language Means Loving Yourself

HOST INTRO: There are always things our families do that seem strange to other people. Katie Toth met one Prospect Heights man who says learning about one family tradition brought him closer to his roots.

It’s a Saturday  afternoon in Brooklyn. Joseph Audeh sits at the table and gets ready for his weekly Arabic lesson. His parents are Palestinian, and this is how he stays connected to his roots.

AUDEH: “It’s a reminder that Arabic is my family language.” (0:05)

As a kid, though, learning this language was the last thing he wanted to do.

AUDEH: “My sister and I hated it so much because we were so Americanized growing up that we were like—We’re never going to need it! (laughs)” (0:10)

Audeh was the only Arabic kid in his class. He didn’t want to draw more attention to himself.

AUDEH: (laughs) I remember one time I was in first or second grade my mother came to visit me. I think it was some sort of show and tell or I think I was presenting something. I had a classmate and I think friend, also, her name was Brittany, she always wore braids she had these pink ties, and I remember being in the cafeteria and my mom was with me, she’s getting ready to head out— (0:24)

 That’s when Brittany comes by to ask a question.

“Why does your mom wear that thing around her head? Is it because her hair is bushy?” (0:07)

None of the other moms wore hijab. Joseph didn’t know what to say.

And I think I was like, yeah! Yeah it’s because it’s bushy. And then I remember my mom sort of asking me later, she said I can’t believe you said my hair is bushy! You need to know I wear this for religious reasons and it’s my choice to do that. And she’s like you know, And my hair is not bushy! (laughs)


 Those days are over. Now, Joseph likes learning Arabic. He says it’s useful when he visits his grandmother, who still lives near Ramallah. Today, he zips up his jacket, grabs his stuff and heads off for another class.

SOUND: Keys jangle, coat zips

AUDEH: “Okay. I’m ready.” (0:04)

Sometimes when we’re kids, our parents think the lessons they teach us in childhood will never sink in. But they do. Eventually.

Katie Toth, Columbia Radio News.

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