my parents have done a lot of amazing things for me, but one of the greatest was refraining from teaching me english. not wanting me to speak like an esl’er, they decided to run a spanish only household in my infancy and i learned english when i started school. it has given me the magical ability to switch languages with the greatest of ease, dazzling the world with my linguistic acrobatics.
during my adolescent rebellion, i forsook my mother tongue. for a long time after, if i spoke spanish, it was as a joke; something i did when super stoned or imitating my elders. of course, i partially blame my roots resistance on the internalization of some racist and euro bullshit about family and independence. so my spanish development stalled at about age 11, and things just got worse from there:
- i’m often unintentionally offensive or harsh as the nuances of certain words or phrases i use are completely lost on me;
- my vocabulary is elementary;
- growing up with cubans, time spent in spain, latino clients, and latino friends have tangled up my accent;
- acquiring most of my spanish in the context of family dinner table discussions and being castigated has meant my most seamless spanish emerges when i’m all worked up about something;
- as a spanglishite, i usually speak english in spanish; directly translating things i should not. for instance, i will say “under construction,” as “bajo construccion,” which apparently means absolutely nothing.
all these things equal lots of giggles and quizzical stares from my brethren. “where are you from?” seems like an innocuous question and no one ever expects the long winded answer i have to give. “do you mean where i was born, where i grew up, where i live now, or where my people are from?” colombians ask me this question as soon as i open my mouth and they tend to ask it differently. they cock their head to the side, purse their lips, and say, “pero de donde eres tu?” because you’re certainly not from here. you must be from a big city far away. “eres de medellin/cuba/españa/argentina?” “no, soy gringa. pero mi familia es de barranquilla.” your entire family? really? huh. the idea that one plane ride could make such a difference seems to throw everyone off. gringa by chance.
just like my spanish, i’ve always felt like i existed in this in between place.
too straight to be queer; too queer to be straight.
too left to be complacent; too complacent to be left.
too rich to be poor; too poor to be rich.
too privileged to be disadvantaged; too… no, i’m just too privileged.
too cynical to be optimistic; too optimistic to be cynical.
too feminine to be masculine; too masculine to be feminine.
too white to be brown; too brown to be white.
no more have i felt all of these things than here in my latin root country. while i am more adept at deciphering our language and ways, i’m still a little on the outside. and when outsiders express bewilderment and frustration at our sociocultural structures, i feel apart once more. i understand gringos and i understand colombians, and i find myself cultural border hopping. in most ways, it’s a beautiful bilingual dance, and, in other ways, it’s just lonely. always a bride’s maid…