I grew up in a Sephardic family with a mother whose roots were in the countryside of New Orleans, so my vocabulary ranged from gumbo, cathead biscuits, across the holler to sayings like vivir cien años for bless you, kibbe and tabouli. I did not have a single friend who had the wide range of references I had and so I used my vocabulary selectively depending on whose company I was in.
On my recent trip to D.C., I was constantly aware of African American vernacular so that when the name Kizzy came up, everyone was supposed to know it was from Roots, and when the Star Spangled Banner was finished and my friends began to sing Lift Every Voice and Sing, I should have known that is the Black National Anthem.
But the truth is in this gumbo pot of the world where a Mexican friend knows no Spanish, a Jewish friend never saw a man wearing a tallit before except in photographs and my friends have a habit of dropping Yiddish words on my lap such as kizmit, kerfunkle, and kvetsh, sometimes words do not belong to the intended. When a friend said to me, “You’ve got bupkes.” And I responded, say what? I got back, “You’re Jewish you should know these words.”
Uh, I’m a Sephardic, from Spain, not from Europe, different tribe, different language. We don’t speak Yiddish, my ancestors spoke Ladino and speak Spanish.
I have to remember that I’m raising my African American son to know his cultural references and words but that he will also access a larger vernacular because of his Sephardic/Louisiana mother and his Croatian mother as well as the rest of the world influences that come and sing to him. Is a child better off having many entries into various cultures or one who is so steeped in the knowledge of his own?