How do you represent your Latina culture when the native Spanish language does not run through your mouth? Last names such as Chavez, Diaz and Garcia are daily pronounced in a wide variety of accents– some emphasize “ía” while others smoothly articulate the way they roll their “r.” While bilingualism is a common expectation in our Latinitas culture, Spanish doesn’t always run through the family tree.
Christina Marroquin was born into a family with a Mexican father and a Caucasian mother in Houston, Tx. Despite her mother’s lack of bilingualism, she managed to pick up a few words from Christina’s grandmother while helping her in the kitchen. At the age of two, Christina recalls her father attempting to teach her Spanish, but a different language other than English sounded funny and her giggles caused her father to eventually stop. However, now she says it would come in very handy considering she is the president of a Latina organization at her college campus at Texas State University.
“I’m especially self conscious now that I am the president of a Latina organization. I feel I’m not representing our culture and our group properly. I wonder if people look down on me or our group for having someone incompetent which is how I sometimes feel. I don’t feel uncomfortable around people speaking Spanish so much. I do know enough to often understand what is being said, but not enough to follow along and contribute. Sometimes I feel left out. There is always a little panicky moment when someone asks me something in Spanish and I have to sit and think and translate in my head. If they talk slow and enunciate well, I can somehow muddle along, but there is always that sense of anxiety.”
For individuals like Christina it is an honor to represent a minority group that is rapidly growing in the U.S. and bringing along its rich language and colorful culture.
“I absolutely love the Spanish language. It has a sort of music to it that is so beautiful to me. It is one of my greatest regrets that I am not a fluent Spanish speaker. The language is such an important connection to my culture and identity and I feel like I am missing out. I would feel absolutely no shame to speak Spanish if I could. I understand some people hesitate to speak it because people look down on it or think they only should speak English here in America. To me, it would make me proud,” Christina goes on to say.
Is there an imaginary line Hispanics draw among themselves to separate Americanized Latinos from natives? Sometimes divisions are created based on the fluency in which one speaks Spanish. It doesn’t necessarily mean they are neglecting their roots; it mainly has to deal with the generation and region in which they were born.
“I am 7/8 Mexican and I can’t prove it with the language. That’s disappointing because the older I get the more I feel a connection to that [Mexican] side and the language,” said Kim Bonan, a native from San Antonio, Tx.
As a child, Kim was never taught the Spanish language due to her parents having their hands full with work. However, her older siblings acquired bilingual skills from their grandmother who watched after them while their parents were away. By the time Kim was born, her grandma had aged and stopped babysitting her grandchildren. Since Kim did not send much time with someone who could speak to her in Spanish, she did not get to learn and practice the native tongue of her family.
“I haven’t ever received an insult about my Spanish mostly because I never spoke it out of fear. That fear started because I would say I was Hispanic, but that I didn’t speak Spanish and people would shoot me down. They would say that I wasn’t Hispanic that I was white. It made me not want to speak Spanish or even associate myself with my Mexican side,” recalls Kim.
Teresa Rodriguez, a Hispanic college student, was born in Virginia and never picked up Spanish. As a brunette with tan skin and brown eyes, it is often assumed she speaks Spanish, but instead receives funny looks at the sound of her accent.
“My parents do speak Spanish. They didn’t pass it down to me because I was born in Virginia and lived there for eight years. My mother thought we were going to stay there forever. Because of the location, my mom thought we would not have to learn it because not many people spoke Spanish,” said Teresa in her defense.
As a growing population in the United States it is essential Hispanics destroy the imaginary border they have built amongst themselves in order to unite. Somewhere along the way of generations and migration, language continues to transform. Why clash Hispanics vs. Hispanics based on the way one rolls their tongue? In the end, the mixture of roots and heritage link Latinitas together.