As much as we’d like to think that prejudice is a thing of the past, it’s not. Judgements and stereotypes are forced down our throats no matter what culture we embrace, but what if this judgment towards culture is a two-way street? Sometimes our cultures can hinder our ability to freely identify and express ourselves, and this is the raw sentiment I found in Natalie Caro’s “Bilingual (Only Means That I Am Silent in Two Languages).”
Where do we turn to when our identity renders us silent? The speaker in Caro’s poem struggles to express herself as a mixture of two cultures: “In whose tongue shall I speak?” This speaker feels isolated and trapped in her own sphere because her mixed heritage remains divided, and neither of the languages she knows encompasses the essence of her meaning. Because she is a hybrid, she is “nonexistent.” (Doesn’t that give you chills?)
Caro’s poem is able to bring out this longing to belong through passion and honesty. She constantly portrays how difficult it is to find the right words or the best self to be whenever anyone dares to step out into the world to be exposed and vulnerable. Everyone wants to belong, but there is a daily battle in all of us to find someone or something that will be a perfect match. We are always forced to adjust to standards like language and mannerisms, but wouldn’t it be a relief if for once we didn’t have to go through trials just to fit in. Wouldn’t it be nice if we can believe the lie our parents tell us about only having to be ourselves to make new friends?
Our essence, a blend of culture and choice, is our strength, but prejudice and doubt are our enemies. “Bilingual” presents the suffering of someone whose internal and external selves are crippling her to speak, and maybe if more people read this poem and considered how damaging restrictions on both sides—those from a certain culture and those outside of it—are, more voices would be heard and dual identities would find relief.