Our Mother Tongue

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Name: Waruguru G.

Country of Origin: Kenya

After a lot of pondering, what I believe to be the quintessence of my African home/upbringing is language. I was born in Kenya, but have only spent about 4 years and 3 months(counting vacations) within it’s borders. Thus I am North American (and in about a month or so, officially an “American”). One of the things that my parents instilled in us from the beginning was the importance of our mother tongue.

When my family first came to Canada I was 3 years old and did not know any English. In my naivety I believed that my parents did not know English either because we were only allowed to speak Kikuyu in my home. I used to go to the grocery store with my mother and point out vegetables and give her the English name for them because I did not know that she actually knew English. It was kind of a cute joke that they played on us, but it did force us to remember and speak our language freely.

My brother and I used to speak in Kikuyu when we had secrets to share so that the other kids would not understand us. The other African parents in our community used to be so impressed by us because their children did not know their mother tongue. While my Kikuyu has gotten a little rusty, I can still speak to my grandmother who does not know a lick of English, and I still gossip with my mother in the supermarket in Kikuyu.

Language is what has kept me “African” after the many years I have spent out of Kenya. I hope to hold onto it, and pass it down to my own brood of Kikuyu babies.

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One Response to Our Mother Tongue

  1. this is an amazing post! it has only recently hit me, the importance of my mother tongue. i grew up in a home in which no Yoruba spoken to me. today though i can speak quite a few languages, my Yoruba is really basic at best. it always makes me sad and i’ve recently started making efforts to change this but it’s difficult.

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