Language deficiency triggers shame


If someone would have told me that losing my native tongue’s proficiency would mean bringing shame to my culture and would cause uncertainty with where I fit in, I wouldn’t have believed them.

But when you are living proof of the struggle that comes with adapting to an unfamiliar playground from a young age, there is only one way to travel — straight ahead.

The meaning of survival for someone who comes from another country is learned through seeing their parents work hard to put bread on the table.

I grew up in a Spanish-speaking household where both parents didn’t speak English, but knew they only wanted the best for their children — which at that point in time was learning English in school after coming to the United States with no plan for return.

Assimilation is ingrained in the process when trying to advance in America, yet necessary to “make it” here.

My understanding of Spanish is still here and my tongue still is able to roll its Rs, but my thoughts are in English and have been for a long time.

Maybe the shame that comes with acquiring knowledge is part of the process, just like learning that having an accent makes you stand out.

It makes you vulnerable and prone to judgment by those who don’t understand where you are coming from.

And even when you just want to keep looking forward, there are those situations that remind you exactly where you stand.

Memories rush to my head of the time in first grade when not knowing how to tell my teacher I needed to use the bathroom I cried instead.

I remember having to think of a way to explain the embarrassing incident to my mom.

Now, having to slow down when speaking to my dad reminds me of when I used to translate paperwork for my mom.

Having a conversation in Spanish with someone means concentrating on what the person is saying, and not just concentrating on how to respond.

I sometimes wonder how they will perceive me if I mix my words or pause in between a sentence for too long.

Often times it feels like I’m letting down my mom and dad, but other times I think this is the result of wanting to be a part of this nation so bad.

I now understand the saying, “No soy de aquí, ni soy de alla,” which translates to “I am not from here neither from there.”

I am not enough Mexico to be Mexican nor am I enough America to be American.

I feel the pressure of the expectations to fit the stereotype of what a Mexican should be or look like, according to those who hold the power. But at the same time feel unwanted in the place I’ve lived the majority of my life. And this is all I’ve known.

Thinking back to that haunting moment in first grade during silent reading as I sobbed in my miniature-size chair, while the narrator fed me English through giant headphones, reminds me of how hard I worked to train my English tongue.

But what once was my weakness has turned into my greatest strength and has allowed me to bring a voice to those in my community who have lived in the shadows.

To have made strides in the English language means my parents’ efforts were not in vain and in its own way is an accomplishment.

What is left of my Spanish language ability is the closest thing I have to the Mexico I left when coming to the United States as a 3-year-old.

It is the piece that makes me who I am and proud of how far I’ve come and how far I have left to go.