Esperanto – Not Just for Cock-eyed Optimists Anymore

One of the problems with Esperanto is that, when you get together with other Esperanto speakers, even those from the most distant and exotic lands, you tend to talk about—what? Esperanto. Of course. You’d better be prepared to break the ice by responding to any or all of the following questions:


Kiel vi eklernis Esperanton?
(How did you begin to learn Esperanto?)


Kiam vi unue Esperantiĝis?
(When did you first become an Esperantist? Or, a bit more literally, When did you first become Esperant-ized?)


Kial vi decidis lerni Esperanton?
(Why did you decide to learn Esperanto?)


KTP
(etc.)




No mystery here; it’s perfectly natural to kindle a conversation with common interests. Unfortunately, these openings tend to progress into discussions of all the minutia and trivia of “the movement.” And that translates into preaching to the choir, in this particular context. Until the language evolves into some sort of vehicle for more prosaic human discourse, it will always be seen as artificial and contrived. We “samideanoj” know this, but we just can’t seem to help ourselves. After all, you can talk about iPhones, hybrid cars, reality T.V., or the weather with pretty much anybody—but it’s not every day when you can break into a chorus of L’Espero (Esperantujo’s imaginary national anthem) with someone who not only knows the words, but who will maybe shed a sentimental tear or two with you as you finish the final verse.


After almost two years of study, I recently had my first opportunity to use Esperanto for a practical purpose. And, in the words of the T.V. carpet technician who once had the opportunity to clean up after an alpaca, “It was awesome!”


American Esperantist is a publication too beefy to be called a newsletter, but too modest to be called a magazine. Whatever you want to call it, I subscribe to it. I wouldn’t want to speculate as to its total circulation. Let’s just say your family Christmas letter probably reaches a broader audience. Nevertheless, a notice placed on one of the last pages of the most recent edition caught my eye. It was submitted by a Swedish Esperantist who was seeking help with a genealogy matter. She didn’t feel that her English was strong enough to accomplish the research herself, so she was hoping to make contact with an American Esperantist who could help her navigate the available records.


I contacted Soile by email to volunteer my services. It turned out that she was now in her 70’s, and most of her relatives, including her husband and only child, had already passed away. You could feel a lonely layer of melancholy just beneath her words. However, she knew that her grandmother was one of only two siblings who stayed behind in Sweden when the other five siblings departed for America in the very early days of the 20th Century. She knew the names and birthdates of these five ancestors and she knew that they had probably settled down in Minnesota initially (no surprise there!). She was hoping to contact their descendants—her American cousins—and perhaps establish a relationship with them. But she had no idea of the names or locations for the present generation. She wanted to know if, in a country as big as America, there was any way to track down her lost family. Did I think I could help?


What seemed like an insurmountable problem to Soile actually seemed pretty straightforward to me. In fact, if I couldn’t track down some of her family members, I would have to return my official Ancestry.com secret decoder ring in shame. I assured Soile that I would give it my best shot. She provided me with the names and birthdates for the original generation and I began my research.


A week later, I initiated an email exchange with a woman in San Diego who, it turned out, was the great-granddaughter of one of the brothers. As you might expect, she was originally reluctant to share personal family information with a complete stranger. She asked for an explanation of who I was and why I was involved. I explained that Soile did not speak much English, but was a very fluent Esperantist and that, as both an Esperantist and genealogist, I had volunteered to help her make contact with her American relatives. My new San Diego contact responded to this explanation with a single word: “Fascinating,” she typed, and I imagined her delivering this line with a skeptical Dr. Spock-type expression, complete with arched eyebrow. Fortunately, she warmed up over this next few days. With her help, I was able to provide Soile with three email addresses for various American cousins. In addition to this woman in San Diego, we found descendants in southern Oregon and in Kansas. The whole exchange took about ten days.


As of today, Soile has “friended” several of her American relatives on Face Book. They use Google Translator to bridge the gap between her Swedish and their English. And I get the satisfaction of having accomplished something by using Esperanto that might not have otherwise happened.

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6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Nobla
    Nov 07, 2010 @ 08:31:31

    Hi, I like the design of your blog and this post. Being partly of Swedish ancestry myself, I simply had to read on. My grandmother has passed away years ago, but I remember she kept in contact with some distant relatives with Swedish. Personally, I've grown to love Esperanto for you can, (with some learning), connect with others around the world. I have found it thrilling to chat on Lernu: http://www.lernu.netMy Best, Nobla

    Reply

  2. g'd
    Nov 08, 2010 @ 22:18:45

    Yeah yeah. Sooooo delighted to have YOU posting again. Kept in touch through Hope… but not the same. What a great combination…geneology and esperanto. Thanks for being you…and in our lives.

    Reply

  3. Trailhead
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 13:11:27

    This comment has been removed by the author.

    Reply

  4. Trailhead
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 13:12:15

    How difficult is it to learn? Weren't you also learning Japanese for awhile too?

    Reply

  5. Margaret
    Nov 10, 2010 @ 20:30:57

    I love being able to use my French for the same reason. It's fun to speak another language. This is a great story, Kristy! Way to go!

    Reply

  6. jason
    Jan 08, 2011 @ 21:14:32

    Mi konsentas! Sed, mi ankaux havas kelkajn bonajn esperantajn okazaojn. Mi ne sxatas paroli pri la movado. Sed mi gxuas legi iujn kiujn mi malpovi trovas angle.

    Reply

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