A Better Diaspora

What does it mean — a better diaspora? I started thinking about this a couple of weeks ago when a friend who is Latina mentioned how often people are surprised when they find out she doesn’t speak Spanish.

At the time I just laughed. I don’t speak Swedish or any of my other ancestral languages, so we’re in the same boat.

Later, though, I started thinking. Why would people think Latinxs would be more likely to retain an ancestral language than anyone else?

Historically, most of the United States has been part of the European diaspora. Learning to speak English is a benchmark for assimilation. Yet, there are cultural enclaves everywhere. I’ve lived in Salt Lake City, New York, and Denver. In each of them I lived for a time in particular cultural areas, including Latinx, Russian, German, and Jewish. Now I live on the edge of the Muslim part of Denver.

When I hear the news about Americans who hate immigrants, I think to myself these people must have led very sheltered, small-town lives. In the cities, immigrant communities are just part of life. Their native cultures give us new restaurants and cultural festivals, which are part of the joy of living in a city.

While all this was fresh in my mind, I came across an old Michael Newton article. If you’re not familiar with his work, he’s been called “a leading authority on the literature and cultural legacy of Scottish Highland immigrant communities in America.” I’ve been giving up on him, because he’s retreating behind a paywall but I still read him when I come across something.

Newton argues that most of what passes for Scottish culture in North America — kilts, clans & whisky — is a sham and sometimes even a vehicle for white supremacy. In this “new” article, he is promoting learning Scots Gaelic as a way of improving the Scottish diaspora.

The idea of learning Scots Gaelic as a way of strengthening the culture of the diaspora strikes me as interesting. Despite what I told my Latina friend about not speaking Swedish, I did take a semester in college. I also had high school French and German, and college Latin, German (and Swedish). And, I’ve tried now and then, but without much success, to learn Gaelic and Old Norse.

So, I wonder. Is knowing the language an essential part of affirming identity and belonging? I think I’d want to read a wider spectrum of opinion and debate but it feels like there’s something “there”.

More Information

  • Dr. Michael Newton. “A Better Scottish Diaspora is Possible.” Patreon <patreon.com/posts/27706625>, July 17, 2019. Retrieved May 27, 2020. 

Updated May 27, 2020 to replace the Patreon link, which works but is “Forbidden”.

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