I grew up in Manhattan’s Chinatown. My family speak Toisanese (or Taishanese), which is a version of the more commonly known Cantonese. As far as I knew, everyone in Chinatown spoke either Canton or Toisan, or both. But not Mandarin.
Now that elusive gaw-gnui is taking over as the language of Chinatown, thanks to parents pushing their kids to learn it in order to advance in the world. With China growing in influence every day, it’s only natural for our kids to speak the language, so to speak. Even the local Chinese school offers more Mandarin classes than Cantonese.
But what about the older generations who continue to speak Canton and only Canton? Apparently, they’re going to have to readjust everything from where they shop to where they eat. Mr. Wong says when he enters a store where the staff speaks only Mandarin, he must try someplace else. Another Canton speaker, Jan Lee, says he can no longer order food from East Broadway, where a lot of the newer, Mandarin-speaking immigrants are settling. “They don’t speak English; I don’t speak Mandarin. I’m just as lost as everyone else.”
My family moved out of Chinatown eight years ago. Each time I go back to visit, the place evokes memories — memories I am going to have to hold onto, for my childhood home has changed in so many ways. Right down to the language I grew up with.