Short Story: Trouble With Language (Part 1)

Lu, Pammy, and Armei met at Armei’s little cosmetic store, specializing in Asian cosmetic brands, every Monday afternoon. It’s not really Armei’s store. She’s just a shop assistant. Monday is slow and a perfect time to meet her friends. If the owner of the store happened to come in, which she never did on a Monday, Lu and Pammy could always pretend to be customers. There’s a little area for makeup tryout with three high chairs and two sofa, the ideal place for their afternoon conversation.

Pammy and her husband had been living in Edison, New Jersey for years–her husband commute to New York every day but they couldn’t afford to live there.
“Sam’s English teacher asked me what language do we speak at home.” Recently Pammy started to worry about her ten-year-old son Sam.
“What did you say?” Her companions asked.
“Of course English I said. I don’t want to lose face,” Pammy said.
“Good for you.” Lu and Armei joined in their praise.
“But you know my in-laws speak Hokkien mixed with Malay. My husband speaks Hokkien mixed with Cantonese with me. Me and my mother-in-law watch Korean drama now and then. So you can hear four different languages at any given time. And some English from time to time. Sam’s English grade is terrible. Do you think we should speak English at home? Will that help him?”
Pammy asked her friends, but her question is mainly targeted at Lu who was an anthropologist. The only academic job she could find was in a remote southern state, where her husband refused to go. He had a job in New Jersey and saw no reason to move. Lu ended up becoming a tutor at the “Ivy Training Center”, offering after school help for kids of all grades, right next to a Korean grocery store.
“Of course you should.” Lu said with emphasis.
“Don’t try to frighten her.” Armei said.

Lu ignored Armei and delivered her long speech, which Armei was sure that Lu was just regurgitating her promotional routine–her little training center had to do marketing events all year round since competitions are cutthroat. Lu said kids are disadvantaged by not having more opportunities to practice English and they are going to be slaughtered in their professional career. When she finished, Pammy’s impressionable mind was overwhelmed with ominous future events threatening her precious little Sam.

“This is new to me. When I grew up, you pick up Cantonese, English, Mandarin, a little Thai from the streets and nobody cares what you learn. My husband grew up in Penang, Malaysia and he’s even encouraged to dabble …” Pammy was puzzled.

Armei could laugh that Pammy’s husband can speak many languages, but each with a heavy accent. She didn’t laugh in case Pammy was offended.

“That’s Southeast Asia, my dear Pammy. People need to trade with each other and had to know enough of different languages to get by. This is America. English is everything. Speaking more languages will only make you an immigrant.” Lu said.

“Sam was born here. He’s not an immigrant.” Pammy was a little panicky. Sam being a real American is an integral part of her American dream. The word “immigrant” has connotations which she didn’t really want to associate with Sam, like long hours, no vacation, repetitive work, being odd, unable to fit in, accent. The list can be long and endless.
“There’s no time to lose. I have to go now” Pammy said. Without much ceremony, she left.
“You frightened her. Pammy is too naive and too obvious sometime.” Armei said.
Lu brushed Armei aside. Pammy might be artless and headstrong, but Armei is too passive and inept in Lu’s opinion.

Click Here For Part 2

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