Saturday, February 14, 2009

A 1960s psychedelic concert all over again

A week ago, some old friends from the Momberger family (Joel, Jane, Claire, Grace, Doogie) and I went to hear a sort of neo-psychedelic concert by Government Mule, one of the premier jam band/southern blues rock bands out there.

It seemed like 1969 all over again, except for the smell of barbeque (it was at Stubbs), Lone Star signs, and being with friends and their adult kids, who are also friends, rather than college buddies or random San Francisco hippies. (I went to Stanford at a great time for music, 1969-1973, so I went up to San Francisco to see concerts at the Filmore, Winterland, etc. a lot.)

Great memories of music then, but I think I liked the experience better now, at least the company. Although the crowd wasn't nearly as interesting, I remember watching people do almost whirling Dervish spinning turns at Grateful Dead concerts, and wondering how people could be so stoned out of their gourds and so graceful at the same time.

One of the most similar things was the light show, so here is another shot of it, courtesy of my hand-dandy iPhone camera.

One other thing that was quite comparable was the quality of music. Government Mule does some of the best guitar rock that I have heard since Jerry Garcia.

My father and his vanishing Swiss-German

This is my favorite photo of my father, John Straubhaar, standing in a field of grain on our farm in Kuna, Idaho. It is how I remember him best, a strong sun-tanned man who was pretty happy with what he had on his farm and with his family.

My father pronounced our last name stru-bar, which is close to the Swiss-German pronunciation. Most of you who know me know that I say it strawb-har, more the high German way, since I thought it was going to be hard enough, without confusing even German speakers, about how to say it for the rest of my life as I went to school and moved around. I sometimes wonder if I should have kept the Swiss way.

I am thinking about all of this because I am working on an article about how language affects immigrants in how they do and don't use new media like the Internet and computers. Here is a quote from that article that made me think about the path my father took through language in America throughout his life as a second generation Swiss-Mormon immigrant. I am going to break the quote into sections and compare it to my father's experience.

"May (2000) writes that immigrants pass through three stages in the acquisition of the language of their adopted country. At first they tend to speak the new language only in formal settings—at school, for instance, or at work—while mostly speaking the native language among family and friends."

That is where my father started. He was born in 1901 and spoke German at home, with family and at church in a community of German speaking Swiss Mormon immigrants in Montpelier, Idaho. He really only started learning English in school.

" In the second stage they speak both the native and the majority languages; some are completely bilingual, while others are not completely fluent in the native language."

My Dad moved into and through this stage pretty fast. He told me stories that obviously still stung about how kids would call him a dumb Dutchman if he spoke German at school and teachers would hit him on the hand with a ruler if he did. (Interesting that I hear the same stories from older Latino immigrants.)

"In the third stage they have switched almost completely to the language of their adopted land; some remain able to speak the language of their forebears, but others speak little or none of it."

My father was 50 when I was born. (I was a surprise ;<) By the time I knew my father in his fifties, he had very little spoken German left, just some songs, sayings and phrases. This was pretty normal, I think, for European immigrants of his time, who were encouraged, almost forced, much more to integrate than the Latinos of that time were.

" This process generally takes two or three generations to complete, May writes, although the third stage can sometimes occur as early as the first generation (May, 2000)."

That is pretty clearly what happened with my Dad, but it seems to be rarer now, as many immigrants try to hang on to the old language and identity, as one layer among several.

Another statement in our paper notes, "The general tendency in all immigrant groups now is for English to become the dominant language by the second generation, with fluent bilingualism being the exception rather than the rule (Portes and Rumbaut, 1990, p. 219; Rumberger and Larson, 1998)."

I rather wish it had worked like that then in my father's day, too. It would have been nice to grow up bilingual, but the America of then did not really encourage that. We integrated but we lost something, too. I think the new model emerging is actually superior, but we shall see how it goes.