First Generation Blues

Today I received a message from one of my uncles.  He wished me a Merry Christmas in Serbian, as it’s Serbian Orthodox Christmas today.  That got me thinking.

There are so many mixed feelings I have regarding my heritage.  I’m half British, and half Serbian; I’m a first generation Canadian.  My British roots are embraced by pretty much everyone, as Canada obviously has a large population with some British background.  My Serbian roots, however, are usually a topic of conversation.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever received any negativity directed at me because of being half Serbian, but I’ve certainly gotten a wide range of responses.  I’ve had people ask if my family was affected by the wars (yes), if I’ve ever been (no), if I speak the language (no), I’ve had people tell me they generally didn’t like Serbs because we’re aggressive and shoot at them (two people, separate occasions), I’ve had people laugh and say Serbs are known for their hard-core drinking habits.  However, most people just look surprised, and say something like, “Wow!  That’s interesting!”

I hate, absolutely hate, that I don’t know the language.  Here I am, university educated in Language and Linguistics, and cannot even speak my own family’s language.  This is actually cause for a pretty deeply-embedded feeling of failure.  My baba is sweet, has an incredible memory and sense of humour, and I can only say token phrases like “Dobar dan”, “Hristos se rodi”, “Kako se ti?”, “Dobro”, “Hvala”, “Lakunoc”, for example (and I don’t even know if I’m spelling them right here — I know I’m missing the accents, at least).  My baba says, “Hi”, “Bye”, and what sounds like “Tsuritsa” in a sweet cooing way when she sees my sister and me.  And she loves to bake.

I’m just wondering, do other first generation Canadians (or Americans, or anything-else-ans) have these torturous feelings that they’re letting their family heritage die slowly by not learning their language?  Does it bother me more than most simply because I’ve taken courses in so many languages, yet not any in one of my own?  Does it mean I take it for granted?  I wish I knew.  I’d like to talk to my baba while I still can.  I know if I don’t, I will regret it.

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3 thoughts on “First Generation Blues

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  2. Nada August 2, 2010 / 4:52 pm

    I too am first generation Canadian, Serbian descent and have studied linguistecs and many other languages. I was blessed however to be taught to read and write Serbian in Sunday school however, am only speaking Serblish with my parents..two-thirds English and one third Serbian..it’s embarrasing however, it’s the sign of the times. I have no other connections with other members of my family as I am not able to express how I feel in Serbian. Presently, I’ve been looking for a cultural support group with other 1st generation Cdns of Serbian descent to immerse myself in the language and therefore re-learn it and practise. Your blog is over a year old: have you had any luck?

    • clio44 August 2, 2010 / 6:08 pm

      Hi Nada, thanks for reading my blog!

      Actually, to be honest, no. I haven’t learned any more this year than last. Actually, today is my family’s holiday — Sveti Ijiah (sp?) — that I’ll be going to later this evening, and immersing myself again in the fact that I haven’t learned the language. 😦

      I would be really interested in hearing more about the cultural support group. Whereabouts are you located?

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