Language is a vessel of colorful traditions and history. And passed down from generation to generation, the language is what many Windsor Asians use to connect to their heritage.
“It’s important…that we don’t forget our language. That we stay connected to our roots,” said Vandana Shah, a South Asian elder participating in a local program that encourages her to speak in her mother tongue. . For her, sharing stories in her mother tongue is part of a long tradition that makes her feel at home.
To keep this tradition alive, two local organizations organize events and classes to help residents meet others who also want to practice their native language.
The South Asian Center created the Hindi Connection Cafe to help older people like Shah connect. At the same time, the local Filipino community center organizes classes to teach Tagalog to children.
Tagalog lessons are meant to give children of Filipino descent a chance to learn about and feel more comfortable with their roots.
“They are so excited to learn even small words,” said Elvira Chu, a language teacher at the Filipino Community Center.
She said it makes her especially proud to see her kindergarten students taking classes at home.
“Like when you have to greet the elderly, you say ‘kumusta po?’… tita is aimed at older women and tito is for older men. Lula is for grandma and Lulo is for grandpa. Nanay it’s for mom and Tatay is equivalent for dad.”
There are also other classes that older students can take part in, including classes to learn folk dancing, singing, and Philippine history.
Filipino heritage classes had to be put on hold during the pandemic, but Chu said they were looking forward to resuming classes in September. She said her students had been looking forward to relearning Tagalog for nearly two years.
“It’s also a way for young Filipino kids to meet other kids they didn’t know before… It helps them make new friends.”
It’s something the older people at the South Asian Heritage Center can relate to as well. They practiced their Hindi skills at the Hindi Connection Cafe, a virtual program that offers weekly classes in yoga and traditional poetry.
“We just wanted to bring the seniors over and chat. We chat, have coffee and chat. That’s how it started.” said Jaya Gupta, a yoga teacher who lends her services free of charge to Hindi Connection Cafe. Its virtual classes help seniors stay in shape.
The programs offer seniors a familiar way to connect. Speaking Hindi is encouraged and participants also share traditional poetry, or shahiri. It also gives older people the opportunity to access traditional medicine – called ayurvedic — which can provide attendees with a sense of comfort and familiarity. Participants can also express themselves in English if they are not so sure of their Hindi.
“It’s mainly for the health and fitness of older people. It’s in Hindi so we can really participate, enjoy and connect,” said Shah, a regular attendee of the Hindi Connection Cafe.
Gupta said these programs have been especially important for older people like Shah, who have had to continue self-isolating during the pandemic.
“Even in the park, they don’t meet anymore. So we’re taking the coffee home… You can have your coffee and chat with us.”