Sharmishtha Basu@Agnishatdal: Welcome to Agnishatdal Juliette, tell us something about yourself please.
Juliette Roques: I am Hungarian by birth. Which sounds like a very easy statement to make, but not when you’re a cross-cultural child trying to live out her French identity in a country you don’t like (Germany), while taking on the traits and identifiers of a third (America), while told to suppress any and everything that has to do even remotely with your mother’s country and culture. It becomes akin to holding a loaded gun. Growing up my father’s Hungarian side was extremely visible, and yet it was very hush-hush. Welcome to the metaphorical schizophrenia / schizophrenic world of a Cross-Cultural Kid. And if you’re wondering why I’m capitalizing the term now but not earlier, then you’re already on the road to understanding how fragile and constantly questioned our identity is, questioned not just by us, but by everyone else. It’s a term that fascinates as much as it alienates, if you’ll allow the awful play with cliches. And it lends itself to the immediate use of stereotypes, stereotypes we don’t just create ourselves, but also feed into when they are made by others. We act the way others see our country or region: if we are American, we must be happier and more optimistic, if French, we are extremely fashion-conscious and always meticulously put together. We fit into the cliches because they make it easy for us, just give people what they expect.
For a Cross-cultural Kid that becomes so much harder. Acting like one ethnicity or country is easy when you’re using the language. But when you’re describing yourself in a language that is not connected to your ethnicity, how do you act then when describing where you are from? Do you go into French mode (whatever that may mean), or opt for the American (again, meaning what? A Midwesterner / New Yorker / Californian? Your audience wouldn’t even know the difference). I say you even though I would never presume to speak for everyone in our little group of perpetual aliens. We all have our own experiences, our own little quirks. Think of it as a classroom or a school, you have people that fit together based on interests, and many get lumped into or choose to be part of the same group. But they are still all very different. On the whole they may agree on which music they like, but scratch a little deeper, and you will find they all have individual interests and attitudes towards whatever is thrown at them. We are all meant to love everybody and get along, after all we are the pioneers, the experts and writers tell us, because we know what it’s like to simultaneously be different and yet fit in. And I can tell you straight away that I’m capable of a lot of dislike for certain people. The region we lived in when I was in Germany? Can’t stand the place. My mother’s place of origin? Ditto. In fact, I couldn’t tell you which I abhor more. On the other hand, I can easily become fascinated with a country or region simply because I heard a song, heard something, or read a good book from a local author (I still blame a combination of outstanding children’s movies alongside Dvorak and Smetana for my initial interest in the Czech Republic, and later, Arnost Lustig’s Lovely Green Eyes for reviving that interest).
Hungary fell somewhere in between. Like I said, it was both a presence and a huge secret in my life. A presence, because my dad made no secret of his native tongue. He’d speak it with his friends, and any Hungarians he happened to encounter. A secret, because it was never explained to me what this language was, I was just meant to go along with it. Conditioned by my mother’s behavior of only using her native tongue when we were at home (or with her friends), but never outside, and never to admit I was from there, or that she was, I think I just went along with it. When I was seventeen, sitting on a bench with my mom, in the same German town I hate so much, I saw a three-year-old girl with the same conditioning. Her mother would hiss at her in their native tongue (which just happened to be my mother’s as well, so I understood every word), but when I asked her (in German) where she was from – “Germany,” and if she spoke any other languages, she kept repeating “nur deutsch. Nur deutsch.” Over and over again, telling me she spoke (or was allowed to speak) only (in) German. I’d like to say she looked pained, but all I remember really was that look of determination on her little face. It was her identity, whether she wanted it to be or not.
My father was French, that’s all I knew. The friends and acquaintances he spoke the strange language with were inconsequential, even if one was my doctor, the other my dentist, and some came to visit, or we went to see them in Paris. The ones living in Paris all had French names, and were referred to by those names when spoken about. But when addressed, they would use their Hungarian nicknames for each other, and my father, who was of the school of, “you’re an intelligent person, look it up, you know where to find it,” merely muttered “that’s just the way it is,”/ “it’s their nickname,” when asked. I did realize as a child that his French sounded different to that of the locals’ but that wasn’t explained to me either. I was French because he was, my mother had become a French citizen when she married him, and again, that was that. It was a testimony as much of her Catholic upbringing as her country’s regime. Until the day she was mad at me and showed me his passport with the words, “see how French your father is? He’s not.” I had to look up Cluj-Napoca, and nearly got a heart attack when I found out it was in Romania. The only thing I knew about that place was that a lot of kids from the school I went to had emigrated from there, returning to the region as Aussiedler, ethnic Germans, and I didn’t like them. Never mind that one of my best friends had been an Aussiedler as well. I knew she was born in Romania, of course, but she wasn’t like the other ones who were so patriotic they could have been (and frequently were) borderline Nazis. I didn’t want to have anything to do with that, even if I knew that Romania wasn’t all German, and the language sounded more like French. My father explained once he’d calmed down about the whole thing, how he was part of the Hungarian minority in the region, but by then I considered all Hungarians to be misogynists, nags, and liars. It took me ten more years to realize that Cluj, Klausenburg, and Kolozsvár were the same place, just that everyone referred to it in their own native language. My father did offer to take me to Hungary when I was fifteen though, and that turned things around until the family we stayed with visited us in Germany, their daughter had trouble fitting in with my friends (due to a language barrier Hungarian kids were more willing to bridge on their turf than Germans), and I got embarrassed and started hating Hungarians all over again. It took me three years to get rid of the combination of hatred and embarrassment and start exploring my Hungarian identity. And then I made up for lost time. But I had a lot of help from some good friends. Even my über-patriotic German friend, who was my best friend at the time and readily lent me a willing ear while dispensing very logical and sound advice. The main helpers though were Hungarian, just a little bit older than myself. We met at the right place at the right time. And I can honestly say if it hadn’t been for them, I never would have found myself in every way that counts.
Sharmishtha Basu@Agnishatdal: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
Juliette Roques: I’d like to be the kind of person who can help others with what I’ve learned. I’d also like to think that I’m achieving that goal as we speak. Hopefully, ten years from now I can continue doing that, inspire others and help them with my experience and writing.
Sharmishtha Basu@Agnishatdal: Do you have any suggestions for Agnishatdal?
Suggestions for Agnishatdal: I really love what you’re doing! So, it’s hard to come up with suggestions to make it even better. 🙂 one thing I can think of, and this will take up a lot of time and – to be perfectly honest – I’m not sure about the logistics involved, but I can imagine a forum where writers and readers can exchange ideas and chat.
Sharmishtha Basu@Agnishatdal: Any suggestions for Indie Adda or fellow indie writers?
Juliette Roques: Indie Authors? I’ll keep my eyes open, because there are a lot of talented writers out there, and it would be great to give them a platform, and share their work with others.