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Monday, 19 August 2013

Multilingualism and identity issues in “Scrubs”

Maybe you’d be interested in knowing that when I first came to the Netherlands, my brother has infected us with a love of TV series.

There are many we watch, but I think that the series to best tackle the cultural (or otherwise personal) identity crisis is “Scrubs”. We have just watched the episode entitled: “My identity crisis”. “Scrubs” features a biracial, bicultural marriage between Turk (who is black) and Carla (who is Latina). They also have a child. Carla is disappointed that her daughter looks exactly like Turk and is determined to pass on her legacy to her children. However, imagine her terror when she has a dream in English when she only dreams in Spanish. She is afraid to lose her identity and doesn’t know who she is anymore.

“Scrubs” even discusses bilingualism. Carla wants to speak Spanish to her daughter but Turk is anxious about it because he doesn’t speak it himself and always refers to Izzy as “his African princess”. Carla then only speaks Spanish when Turk is not around, but is not happy with this arrangement. However, after Turk explains to her that she is still Latina, she has the same dream again- even though it’s a nightmare because her friends want to kill her, she is delighted to dream in Spanish. At the end of this episode, we see Turk listening to Spanish language podcasts.

In the episode, called “My Bad Too”, this topic is discussed further. Turk has learned Spanish and wants to impress Carla by giving her his gift of language for their anniversary. He is curious what she will give to him, and suggest that she makes him brinner (breakfast for dinner). Carla refuses, until Turk catches her talking on the phone in Spanish, complaining about his messiness. He then cleans up and she makes him brinner.

Impressed by this gift, Turk tells her that there is nothing that he can do to top brinner, and so keeps his knowledge of Spanish a secret. Also, he discovers that because Carla doesn’t know that he can speak Spanish, it gives him a certain power over her.

Eventually, Carla finds out, but instead of being angry, she forgives him. The two then use their knowledge of Spanish to talk about other people behind their backs- not a very kind gesture, but it allows them to bond. Turk then admits that knowing Spanish was a good decision and it greatly improved their relationship.

I am very happy that bilingualism and cultural identity issues were discussed on “Scrubs”, which is a highly popular series, and that this topic was shown in such a positive light. I think the discussed episodes did a great job of showing what identity crisis can feel like and what bilingual families face on a daily basis, especially when one of the parents can’t speak the other’s language.

I wish we had more series discussing these topics in such an eloquent manner!  

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  1. I love Scrubs and had completely forgotten about those episodes. Thanks for reminding me of them - and for pointing out that bilingualism is a much more mainstream topic than most of us might think.

    1. It's such an awesome series! We have recently finished watching the 8th season (N. didn't want to watch the 9th, claiming it isn't just as good) an dyou are right: bilingualism is totally mainstream now! I am waiting for the first bilingual ad!


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