Sofia Vergara, Bilingualism and Bi-culturalism
Back To Spanish-speaking Roots
NBC Latino has recently reported that Sofia Vergara, that sexy hot, multiple Emmy-nominated Colombian-born star of “Modern Family”, is renewing her connection to her Latin American roots and fans. She is doing so by filming a Spanish-language 8-episode mini telenovela to be aired in every Spanish-speaking Latin American country in the near future.
What I find fascinating about this is that Vergara has become another example of a very high level, bilingual, bi-cultural artist (as a producer and creator, as well as an actress, she certainly qualifies for that title).
She is working at the height of both Latin American and American entertainment culture, at the same time. That is the important point. It is not that she switched from a Spanish-language industry to America, and is now going back. She is working in both markets/linguistic areas simultaneously. She has completed her new Spanish-language telenovella while also undertaking a new production deal with the American network ABC to produce a new (English-language) comedy, a Kmart fashion line, and Cover Girl contract.
Shekhar Kapur Excelling Across Cultures
This reminds me of Shekhar Kapur, the Indian director, producer, and actor. He has produced and acted in some of the biggest Indian films with the biggest Indian actors, such as Dil Se with Shah Rukh Khan or The Bandit Queen based upon the life of the infamous Indian female outlaw, Phoolan Devi. (For those that don’t know, the Indian movie industry is the largest in the world, even bigger than Hollywood.)
At the same time he directed the internationally acclaimed historical biopic Elizabeth, which brought the actress Cate Blanchett to global attention and was nominated for 7 Oscars. He also directed Elizabeth: The Golden Age which was nominated for 2 Oscars.
Also, on another front, Kapur worked with Andrew Lloyd Webber in producing the musical Bombay Dreams which has been playing in London’s West End since 2002 and on Broadway since 2004. He continues to work at the highest levels in Western and Indian cinema.
Jet Li, International Action Man
Another bi-cultural, bilingual artist that comes to mind is the martial artist, producer, and actor Jet Li. He started out in Chinese and then Hong Kong cinema in such iconic movies such as the Shaolin Temple series and the Once Upon a Time in China series and then moved to Hollywood features such as Lethal Weapon 4 and Romeo Must Die. But he did not abandon his Chinese films, starring in 3 Chinese films as recently as 2011 and 2012, for example. Interestingly, his citizenship changed from China, to the US, and now to Singapore, an ideal mixture of the East and West.
Antonio Banderas: Up And Down Hollywood and Spain
The other bi-cultural, bilingual example that comes to the top of my head in Antonio Banderas, actor and director. A Spanish national, he started out in Spanish language films notably of Pedro Almodóvar, such as Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown and Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down! He then broke into Hollywood, first through The Mambo Kings, Philadelphia, Interview with a Vampire, and then most importantly with Desperado. Banderas became a Hollywood A-lister by that point.
However, in 2006, Banderas directed the Spanish-language film, El camino de los ingleses, or Summer Rain, for which he won the Berlin International Film Festival Award. He also collaborated again with Almodovar in 2011 by starring in La piel que habito, or The Skin I Live In, while continuing with his high-level Hollywood projects.
Not Just Two Languages, But Excelling in Two Cultures
I’m sure there are more such bi-, even tri- (and maybe even quadri-?) cultural artists.
What is interesting about these people for me is not just that they can function in two societies and languages at the same time, but that they function at such a high level of achievement in both societies. That takes a special talent and gift, in my opinion.
As I have argued in other articles about learning another language, to be really effective and fluent, you need to understand the culture, history, and psychology of the societies which speak the language you want to learn, be it French, Spanish, Korean, Russian, Hindi, or what have you.
Most of the time we don’t realise how steeped we are in our own culture. It often takes a trip abroad to see how different our various worlds can be.
I am fascinated by these bi-cultural artists who have achieved at such high levels in more than one language zone. It is hard enough to become a star in one’s own language, let alone in another language. And then to retain your status at home – without being an “exile” or a “sell-out” – I think is quite admirable, and represents a great phase in the bridging of global cultures.