I Am More Than Just Bilingual

I'm Here To Tell You I Am More Than Just Bilingual

For a while, Spanish became an ugly reminder I didn't fully belong in these two worlds that have always been like family to me.

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As a Bilingual Latina, Spanish and English have always been a major part of my identity and define who I am as a person.

While I spoke English at school with my friends and teachers, Spanish was also spoken to and through me to describe my culture with my family in every way, shape and form.

I've always kind of flaunted my bilingualism and have never thought otherwise, however at some point while growing up, I came to almost resent the Spanish language.

I didn't resent the language because I couldn't understand it, but I resented Spanish because I had realized that it was a constant reminder of who I wasn't while simultaneously showing me who I could be.

I didn't belong with my family in the United States because I couldn't speak English perfectly, but I also didn't belong with my family in Mexico, because my Spanish wasn't considered the best.

I was basically my own little person of multilingual feelings.

For a while, Spanish became an ugly reminder I didn't fully belong in these two worlds that have always been like family to me.

It became difficult to know that I was constantly referred to as "The Bilingual Girl," or "The Girl who Speaks English and Spanish," because although that was true, being bilingual just wasn't enough for me to fit in.

Many people don't realize that being bilingual doesn't just come with a language, but it also comes with its own set of Stigma as well.

In America, being Bilingual is praised on so many levels.

People strive to be bilingual, but growing up with two languages hurts.

Not being able to belong into a community because you can't speak the language well, hurts.

Being known as that family member who "tries" to speak Spanish, hurts.

Yes, those are common struggles of being Bilingual, but man did they hurt while growing up.

I can now say that I'm more than just a Bilingual person.

I can proudly say that now, I do belong in both communities regardless of what other people think of me.

I'm more than just a Bilingual person.

I have two different cultures on my side full of knowledge and customs many people would love to learn about.

Being Bilingual shouldn't dictate you or remind you of what you can or cannot be. Embrace your differences and even when you feel like you don't belong in a certain place, trust me, you do.

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No, White People, You Don't Get To Wear Bindis, Dreadlocks, Or Headscarves

My headscarf carries the collective trauma of an entire population of black women.
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This summer I spent a month in India, traveling and studying yoga. I went in quite the historically relevant moment; thousands if not millions of westerners (like me) have fled into yoga schools in India over the last several years, and the yoga teacher workforce is expanding to the point of over-saturation. Still, despite yoga's Eastern roots, the yoga industry in the West is successfully reducing yoga to a fitness practice full of expensive leggings and Instagram sponsorships. Our newfound “interest in Indian culture” has led to Selena Gomez and other white women wearing bindis to music festivals which has sparked a fiery social media debate over the difference between cultural exchange and cultural appropriation (you can read more on that here).

Knowing this, throughout my time in India I struggled with struggled with the general implications of me, a westerner, bringing yoga back to a country where it’s removed from its culture. I also struggled with wanting to wear saris and bindis but not knowing if I should.

I understood the concept of cultural appropriation, but damnit, bindis are cute and I still wanted to be able to justify my wearing one while here in India. What’s the big deal, right? It wasn’t until I was personally affected by cultural appropriation that it really hit home how serious this issue is.

I am a biracial woman of Afro-Caribbean descent. My dad’s mom came to the United States from Belize when she was 16 years old, and although they lived in a Belizean community in Chicago, I grew up in a majority white community in central Illinois. Today, like many other women of African descent, I sometimes wear a headscarf around my curly afro, but you may be surprised to find out how much internal battle is behind this seemingly simple act. I’m not exaggerating when I say that my headscarf carries the collective trauma of an entire population of black women. So yes, of course, I appreciate when people compliment and admire this piece of my culture. But I also get upset when any compliment a (white) woman gives me is immediately followed by “I wish I could wear one of those,” and then “maybe I should”.

The very idea that my headscarf is a mere accessory that is just kind of “up for grabs” by anyone and everyone deeply hurts me. To understand this, you have to understand that I have 10+ years of memories of struggling with my hair. In third grade, I began to beg my mom to let me stop wearing braids, and by sixth grade, I had begun chemically relaxing my hair to make it appear longer and straighter. It took me until senior year of high school to go back to my natural kinky-curly hair, a rather political decision that required confronting my own internalized racism and fighting back against our society’s white European standards of beauty. It was another year until I was bold enough to wear a headscarf, something that was by no means easy for me to do even though it represents my own culture and history. Even when I started wearing headscarves I still never wore them when I might come in contact with people that knew me, instead reserving them for those lecture hall classes where I could blend in easier.

But when white people slap on a headscarf for the sake of fashion, they don’t deal with the same problems I do. It doesn’t carry the same weight for them-- the weight of prejudice and subsequently internalized racism, being bothered by classmates or ogled at on the streets for my exotic-ness. I’m offended even at the mention of their desire because it strips my headscarf of its cultural significance. They could wear it without stigma, without years of memories of being made fun of and seen as “less than”.

White girls have gotten to straighten and curl their hair for every special event. They got to comb each others’ hair and partake in braiding trains at recess. I was the one who felt excluded every single time, acutely aware that I somehow did not belong. And of course, they never complimented the braids and clips my mom had given me. Now, with my headscarf, I finally have something that is mine. It represents my acceptance of myself and my roots, so forgive me if I want you to have to feel left out of this one.

We justify our appropriative actions by saying we’re “appreciating culture”, and that should be celebrated. Anyone who talks about cultural appropriation is just too sensitive, making a big deal out of something that’s just a compliment. Imitation is the highest form of flattery, right?

This is the response I received from a friend, we’ll call her T, last week when this topic came up. What made me so upset was the way such an opinion blatantly invalidates the concerns of people of color. Frankly, as a white person, and therefore someone of the dominant culture, T does not have the authority to decide what’s acceptable and what’s not.

But T did exactly what we all should do when we are confronted with a situation like this: she listened. She was genuinely interested in my story and asked me questions about my experiences, open to everything I had to say.

So back to my bindi question: In light of my recent experience with T, I decided to turn to the underrepresented voices of those it affected for my answer. Here are links to just a few great articles I found on the topic:

Everything You Should Know Before Sticking A Bindi On Your Head

I'm Indian, Don't White-Wash My Culture By Wearing A Bindi

Can People Of Color Culturally Appropriate

We surely can have the same conversation over headscarves, dreadlocks, and headdresses. Needless to say, I decided not to wear bindis except with my sari at graduation (where our teachers encouraged us to dress in traditional attire). And after I visited the Grand Mosque in Abu Dhabi, I retired my hijab.

So, there’s the lesson. Remember that this is a much larger issue than your appreciation of other cultures or even the feelings of people of other cultures. This is about a long history of dominant cultures oppressing colored peoples (while picking and choosing the parts of their cultures they wish to keep or throw out). My advice is to just be aware, keep your eyes open. Have a little empathy, some compassion, find the power imbalances, and talk to people on the oppressed side. If you think what you’re about to do might be cultural appropriation, listen to the silenced voices and make sure they feel heard.

Cover Image Credit: Radiance Campbell

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Maybe It's Time For Even Black People To Stop Saying The 'N-Word'

There's no time nor place to use the word, whether it connotes to something negative or positive.

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I've been thinking about this topic for a while now. I recently went to a party with a couple of my friends, and usually, at a PWI like Rutgers, I'll always aware when I'm one of the few black people in the room. And since I'm one of the few black people in the room, I'm always hyper-sensitive of any racial tensions that may arise within the party scene. I think it was Meek Mill's "Dreams and Nightmares" that came on and I was dancing with these two white girls, and I couldn't tell if they were singing along or not because it was too dark, but I swore I heard them say the n-word. It just made me so angry, and I hate that as one of the few black people in the room, I felt obliged to tell them that the word isn't something for them to say.

And that had been my entire mindset about the word for a while now, that only black people can say the word because we're the only ones who can truly understand the context of the word. But my boyfriend and I got into a discussion a few nights ago about Halsey, who is a popular biracial — with one black parent and one white parent — singer, though she is white passing.

iamhalsey / Instagram

We got into a discussion of whether or not she should be able to say the 'n-word,' and my boyfriend said that she shouldn't be able to because if her fanbase is mostly non-black, they would think they are justified in saying the word if their favorite white-passing celebrity can. Because yes, although she is half black, to an average onlooker who doesn't know her, they would think that she's white. The black social justice warrior wanted to say that she could say it because despite her other half, at the end of the day she is a black woman, and to strip her of her right to say a word that we've reclaimed is almost like stripping her of half of her identity.

But then I really thought about it. The usage of the "n-word' has so many nuances. Like, what if someone is a quarter black, like Cardi B, are they allowed to use the word? Because we can use the same justification for them as we can use for Halsey. Furthermore, can Africans use the word, even if the word was only used against African Americans? Is there a particular percentage of black that you can be to really use the word? And what if you're fully black, yet still white passing... are you still allowed to use the word even if other people wouldn't see you as black?

That's when I told him, "Maybe no one should say the 'n-word.'" And I know that kind of struck him by surprise, but the more I started to think about it, the more it made sense to me. If it's a word that no one but black people can use, and if it's so offensive, why are us black people even using it?

Honestly, it's just my opinion, but I think you can't reclaim a word with so much history. I feel like it's different with women, who reinvented the meaning of and became empowered by "bitch" or members of the LGBTQ+ community reclaiming the word "queer." Because although yes, those words have been used to oppress and discriminate against certain groups, I feel like the 'n-word' has terrible connotations that span across centuries. The 'n-word' has been used to systematically, institutionally, and personally degrade, enslave, and inhibit black people from reaching their full potential in society. The word itself has been used to dehumanize blacks and make them believe that they are "less than" any other race.

It's a word with so much history, hurt, and torment behind it, and I feel like it's not something we can reclaim and make into something positive. And I thought what the arguments that can be used against my opinion... like maybe, this is the one thing people have, so why try and take it away from us? or black people have been using it to talk to other black people for a while now, saying it is no different than slaves calling each other that.

And I think those arguments are completely valid. But back then, black people used it to refer to other black people because they legitimately saw each other as less than because that's what the slave masters wanted them to think. And while yes, black people have had a lot of things taken away from us, I think that we as a people can't thrive while still calling each other something that was used to dehumanize us (and still used in some places) for so long.

Again, it's just my opinion, but it's something that I've given a lot of thought to. There's no time nor place to use the word, whether it connotes to something negative or positive. Maybe we should all just agree that this is a particular word that can't be reclaimed and can't be rebranded. As long as racism and prejudice exist, we won't really ever get away from the true context or meaning of the word. You can't take out an "-er" and slap an "-a" at the end and believe the word is OK to use now.

Maybe it's time to leave the word in the past, where it rightfully belongs.

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