No, I Don’t Know Spanish
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Politics and Activism

No, I Don’t Know Spanish

But I wish I did.

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No, I Don’t Know Spanish
Portada Online

One of my coworkers recently asked me if I knew Spanish. When I responded that I did not, he responded by asking “Why not? Aren’t you Mexican?” In my 25 years of life, I've continually been asked the same question and been given the same response from individuals. I don’t get offended when asked why I don’t know Spanish and trust me, I have been quite a few times. I will say that my experiences with Spanish started and ended when I was a young child. My great grandma, who was born in Deming, New Mexico, only spoke Spanish and as long as my great grandma was around, the family spoke Spanish to communicate with her. When she passed away, may she rest in peace, the use of Spanish language within my family also died with her and my family would only speak English with the occasional Spanish word here and there.

I was a sophomore in college when I was first truly offended by the words “Aren’t you Mexican?” It was on this day that I knew why I didn’t know Spanish. I remember that day like it was yesterday; I was working and this lady walks up and starts speaking to me in Spanish. She then paused and asked my nationality. When I responded that I was Mexican, she then continued to speak in Spanish. When informing her that I didn’t know Spanish, she looked at me with a hatred in her eyes and said, “I thought you said that you were Mexican and you don’t know Spanish, you should be ashamed of yourself.” Up until that day, I was never ashamed to be Mexican and only an English speaker, but on that day, I also knew why I didn’t know Spanish. I responded to the lady by saying “No. I am not ashamed, because I am Mexican-American and I am also a third generation, and being born in my generation would mean that being a minority would come with challenges.”

Growing up I constantly heard from my grandparents that it was important to go to school and get a good job. I knew this was true, but it also meant that as an individual, I needed to fit in. I needed to do what I needed to do to not stand out and be noticed as a minority. This meant the Spanish and an accent had to go, and the way I talked and dress had to change also. I refrained from learning Spanish if that meant a chance at better jobs. I grew up in a generation where being a minority wasn’t easy, because being a minority meant that you could possibly be undocumented, uneducated, low income, etc. and none of these applied to me. Unfortunately, having the darker skin color and marking the box that said Hispanic brought along all these stereotypes. Some individuals will go their whole life hiding their true identity because they might be ashamed that if their true identity is exposed then it might cost them a future job or education. It’s definitely not easy being a woman and a minority, but it’s also not easy living with the fact that as a Mexican woman, I only speak English.

My decision to only speak English is not to disgrace my family or my culture, but because I wanted to succeed in life. All my life, I was told that in order to succeed I needed to fit in and somehow not stand out. To me, this meant that I needed to look less like the minority and more "Americanized." I basically did a 360 in high school which carried on to college, and it was at that point when I learned to embrace who I was. The difference was that in high school the teachers would say that minorities don’t usually make it, but in college, the professors would say that it’s amazing to be a minority.

Not only was I a minority, but a woman also, and that meant I had double the work ahead of me. I knew that the choices I made growing up would affect me the older I got, but I also succeeded. Some of you may say that I succeeded by being someone who I wasn’t, but that is not true. Being a woman and a minority does not define who I am or my accomplishments. Being a Mexican woman who only speaks Spanish does not make me any less Mexican. I didn’t grow up in a Spanish-speaking household and neither did my parents. I should not be ashamed to be a Mexican woman because I don’t know Spanish. Yes, it’s good to be bilingual, but I shouldn’t have to feel like I am forced to learn a language because I will come off as more authentic to those around me. I used to feel ashamed to be Mexican and not know Spanish because growing up that was all I heard from individuals. Then I came to realize that they should be the ones ashamed because of the unfair expectations that they're placing on the younger generations. I made the decision to speak only English because, as a child, I was taught that fitting in with the American culture was the right thing to do. As a 25-year-old Mexican woman, I choose to speak English because I know that I shouldn’t feel ashamed to be an English-speaking Mexican woman.

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