Not so long ago this year I asked in one of my Facebook updates: “Do you speak Indian?” as a rhetorical question to which I put in my own answer: “No, never heard of it.” The reason was that I wanted to show how utterly ridiculous the question actually is and it is an oxymoron considering that the language[s] of India not are confined to the given name of the country such as e.g. Danish for Denmark.
I cannot count how many times this question has been posed to me and ironically enough later at a dinner party I was asked once again that exact same question, “Can you speak Indian?” This is getting a little tiresome.
OK, I’ll admit had people asked me in regards to my education in Indian Philology it wouldn’t be so strange, but this is rarely the case because I seldom present myself this way. What often happens is that I am solely being judged by my mere presence and nothing more. In this context you can say I and other Adoptees are being othered when we have to fill in the blank when the question is directed towards us.
I am not saying that the questioner always intentionally ask just to irritate you. Most of the time it is out of pure ignorance they ask. It can however be a bit uncomfortable at times being put under the spotlight with nothing else highlighted other than your physical appearance because your linguistic ability to speak somehow is assumed to be interlinked with it.
That being said I want to make it perfectly clear that i do take a great deal of interest in where I come from, but it also has to be pointed out that everything I know about my birth-country and heritage I pretty much have learned and discovered on my own. I did not have anyone to school me about these matters growing up. Not from my a-family nor friends and certainly not by any other Indians in a predominately white suburban neighborhood.
Before being adopted my mother tongue was Tamil. So do I speak Indian, No and I have not spoken Tamil since the age of 3. (I am slowly relearning though)