For many people speaking Spanish can be synonymous with being latinx, so much so that not being able to speak the language can often elicit reactions of shock or derision and can leave non-Spanish speaking latinx feeling frustrated, ashamed or alienated. There are many reasons why a latinx might not be able to speak Spanish, but the bottom-line is that not speaking Spanish doesn’t take away a latinx’s latinidad just like being able to speak Spanish can’t make a gringo one of us.
However, there are also a lot of reasons that speaking the language can be beneficial for a latinx, so I decided to ask some of my friends why they thought speaking Spanish was important to them.
At Home and Travelling Back to Motherlands
I speak Spanish to connect with my family back in DR or even my family here who never learned English.—Lisedy Bueno
Many latinx like me have loved ones that don’t speak English, whether it be parents, grandparents or others from their extended/chosen family. When I was growing up, my brother and I spoke to my mother in English and she would respond to us in Spanish. Now that I’m older I understand how that ended up being somewhat of a wall between us and how alienating that must have been for her—coming to a new country with a new language and new customs and then to have children who didn’t communicate with her in her own language in her home which should have been her safe space. Though my mother understands English, my grandmother doesn’t at all. There is so much I learn from her every single day and it’s something my younger cousins who don’t speak Spanish miss out on as a result.
But even more difficult to navigate were the return trips to the land of my parent’s origin. Often heritage speakers (people with Latinx heritage who speak Spanish) talk about family members “back home” criticizing them for not speaking or forgetting their language. And it ends up breeding feelings of shame. However, with travel there’s a layer of privilege as first-world citizens that we must all hold ourselves accountable for: not speaking the language of a country you are visiting forces people to try to meet you were you’re at in their own home.
The Future Generations
I gained spanish through osmosis for the first 18 years of my life, so if I lost it, I’d lose myself. When I have kids…Spanish will be a way to connect to their past but not to their present like me.—Manuel Venero
Speaking Spanish as an Act of Resistance
There we’re so many people who were forced to forget their indigenous tongue when they were forcibly assimilated into the US/ Latin America, I think to willingly forget it or be ashamed of speaking it is really insulting to those who came before us…—Angelica Romero
To Serve and Connect with our Community
To serve my people better, make sure they aren’t being swindled and shit, and because it’s the language of our families and it’s our language of love.
For many of us love translates into service for our community, whether as teachers or case workers or school guidance counsellors and to be able to truly serve that community having the language skills is often necessary. Not speaking English often is a barrier for our community to access the resources available to them as students, parents, or workers. Bureaucracy is hard enough to navigate but without the ability to communicate it becomes downright impossible. For those of who speak Spanish in order to serve, doing so allows us to be the bridge between the needs of our community and the resources they might not have access to on their own. It’s not uncommon for children to have to translate at Parent-Teacher night or to have to help their parents make appointments at the doctor’s office—and that’s where our language skills come into play. Serving our community is not only done in grassroots organizations. For folks like my mother having a Spanish-speaker at the other side of the cashier can often take the stress out of what for many is common, everyday occurrence.
I enjoy hearing Dominican analogies in its tongue, connecting with the lyrics of our favorite Spanish songs. Letting [my mom] know I love her in the tongue she taught me.
A theme that ran through my conversation with many Spanish-speaking Latinx was the concept of not having to translate love bringing up the fact that there are things in all languages that aren’t translatable even if the Spanish-English dictionary begs to differ. I have often said that language, true language, happens beyond the nuts and bolts you learn in a regular classroom. It happens in the idioms, the expressions, the dialects we speak. There are moments, songs, jokes and expressions that cannot be deconstructed in any other language than the one they’re delivered in. The ability to learn from or about someone or something in its own language is one of those moments.
The benefits and reasons for speaking Spanish or not are varied and intensely personal. There is no one-size-fits-all approach to identity and no one should feel that there is. If however, you’re a latinx who is looking to brush up on your Spanish skills there are a bunch of different resources at different price points. Here are some free resources to pick through. Did you know the Cervantes Institute in New York gives free classes for heritage speakers?
If you’re looking to brush up on your skills or learn the language in a judgment-free way, privately and from the comfort of your home or workplace contact me to find out how you can learn online. Heritage speakers get a discount and I’m completely willing to work with your budget! Don’t let shame or lack of funds keep you from learning how to speak Spanish if that’s one of your goals.
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