I realize I did not properly introduce myself in written form and maybe we even got off on the wrong foot. In fact, readers may wonder why someone Chinese and white has the audacity to comment on Cape Verdean culture. I have been doing something similar with Boston’s Chinatown, the community which I am a part of. So it isn’t a huge jump to write about Cape Verdeans, a people who I had gone to school with for years… and yet seemed to know nothing about.
And when writing about these two cultures I can’t help but start to compare the communities.
And the truth there are some ideas that buzz around in both communities that if shared could really bring both groups forward… perhaps even save one from cultural extinction.
One thing that I noticed that Chinese Communities have that Cape Verdean Communities (so far that I’ve seen) seem not to have is your Chinese School. Chinatown has Kwong Kow. Newton has GBCCA. There is a Chinese school in Malden. It’s a place not only to learn Chinese but a place to learn Chinese Cultural things. Folk dance, Chinese Yo Yo, Chinese dulcimer, painting, Lion Dance, Kung Fu… you get my drift.
I assume that Cape Verdean Community centers offer similar programming. But What I noticed talking to people is that it seems to be offered primarily to adults. It’s not a summer camp or after school program to push your kids into so that they can learn how to speak their language.
When Kwong Kow was more Taishanese, it was a place where, after all those hours, it was expected that you be able to write your name in Chinese, say a few words in “herng ha wah” the hometown language, in this case Taishanese, and hang out with some other Taishanese and Chinese people. But slowly other types of Chinese came in, Communist China became a powerful country, Kwong Kow slowly started to use Simplified Chinese as well as the Traditional Chinese characters and to start teaching Mandarin. In fact much of their summer camp and after school is now conducted in English and there are just Chinese classes. This is viewed as moving forward and at first glance, the Chinese community got it and the Cape Verdean community could learn from that.
But letting these ideas sit around a little bit, I realized that Taishanese culture is slowly strangling itself to death, while Cape Verdean Creole Culture, though around for 500 years, is just getting starting to come into its own power, Cabo Verde network, perhaps being on of the first steps of organization toward greatness. For instance, Professor Manuel De Luz Goncalves has recently written a Cape Verdean-English dictionary. So this is what I hear when asked about why there aren’t Cape Verdean schools. That it is a new idea. While Chinese is one of the oldest languages there is.
Manuel Da Luz Gonçalves has compiled the first-ever Cape Verdean Creole to English dictionary, with 40,000 words. (Banner photo)
However, I have never seen a Taishanese- English dictionary. The explanation for this is that the writing is the same. But there are Cantonese and Hong Kong ways to write down certain words which do not translate directly into Mandarin. There are many Taishanese (and Cantonese) phrases which you can’t write down in Chinese…. But Jook Sings (Chinese Americans) will easily use these words to Google stuff using a non standardized English spelling, and Google will understand it and get you write where you need to go. In other words, though the Chinese community seems to be ahead, the Taishanese Community, in terms of cultural awareness. Seems to be behind Cape Verdean culture.
Many Cape Verdeans used to call themselves Black Portuguese. And here is where you really see that Cape Verdean culture is moving toward something greater, where Taishanese culture is slowly and willingly allowing Mandarin culture to finally, after thousands of years of civilization, to kill it off. There are no Cape Verdean children’s schools because children in Cape Verde learn Portuguese in schools. So the equivalent organization in America would be a Portuguese school. And why have that? Why not just learn English? But once you suddenly start to feel that you are NOT black Portuguese, but you are awakened to a Cape Verdean pride, then you start to look at yourself and your community differently.
Portuguese is the language of the empire and Cape Verde is the colony, with its own culture and language which has been mixing for 500 years, and may have basis in a native culture which depending on which article online you read, was there, or was not there. Cape Verdean Independence happened in July 5, 1975, so that even though the culture has been around, that pride in it, to organize to preserve and promote it is just getting started. But it is there.
Taishanese in the meantime are slowly being further absorbed into Mandarin Culture, the Communist Chinese Empire. Many Taishanese Americans are starting to have that pride in a culture they lost. But nobody is doing anything about it yet. More self identified groups like Hakka, Hokien, and those types are similarly doing what I see being done in Cape Verdean Culture. I thought after studying Cape Verdean culture for a few years, I may be able to bring something back to the Chinatown Community. What I have found is that after one festival in Onset, I already have many things that I can bring back.