Tuesday, May 31, 2016

When Language is a Piece of You


There is no time in my life that when I think of myself, I don't do it without hearing the rise and the fall of the Spanish language. It is not a part that is separate from me, but the seed from which I grew.

The Spanish language runs through me like roots that mark a beginning. The sounds of el, la, ina, and ora, circle around me like the rings of a tree.  My family left their country amid words of Spanish and began their new lives in America, arriving with words of Spanish. They were unable to stay under their country's government, no matter how deep their desire to remain, but they were always able to stay in their language.

I have lived in America my entire life. But with the loss of my father, mother, and grandmother, the first generation to be in this country, I feel the slow pull away between me and my first language. I fear this separation and I know that I am a poor cover of the sound that my family brought with them.

My uneasiness comes from knowing that I am adrift without the original sound of my childhood. To hear Spanish, is to hear home. Spanish centers me, it takes me to who I am and without it, I don't see a road ahead of me. If I leave the Spanish language behind, who I am is gone. It is Spanish that binds me to my family's country. Spanish makes the ocean between here and there, disappear.

It will feel like loss to not have the sound of Spanish around me. It will take from my heart the way my father's death, my mother's, and my abuela's, did.

This year, the reaction to the sound of Spanish in this country has turned darker. It has moved in the direction of double takes, disapproval, unasked questions, spoken out loud assumptions. The clear disgust at not hearing English. Some shout out their demand, English! English!

I can't be without determination. I can't feel defeat. I can't feel despair. I can only commit to not be ashamed of speaking Spanish. I won't be made to feel inferior or judged because of it. It is the language that rings truer for me than English.

If I lose my Spanish, I lose my country.

And that may be the goal of the ugliness that is spreading across our nation.

We can't lie about what we feel in our hearts. Our language is more than what we speak with our tongues. It's what we say from our souls. And I will forever have Spanish at the core, as the heat and the spark, as the bridge across the distance of where I came from.

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12 comments:

  1. This is lovely and something I hadn't thought about.
    Sharing now.

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  2. **To hear Spanish, is to hear home.**

    You are beautiful. Your words are lush. Your culture and experience makes America richer & fuller & more colorful.

    May your soul sing in Spanish for all of us to hear...

    Loudly, clearly, crisply.

    & without apology.

    Ever. xx

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    Replies
    1. I am lucky to know you. Thank you.

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  3. Beautiful. It is how I feel about certain words that I use in Yiddish, or Hebrew blessings, only for me they remain in my heart and mind, only used with family once in a while. But they hold my father and grandparents in them. I love the Spanish language and love hearing it. Please never stop.

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    Replies
    1. You said it, best, our entire family exists in those words.

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  4. So glad you wrote this. YES.

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  5. My friend, I have saved this post to use--with your permission--with my students. Many who will most definitely relate. Language is a very deep part of our identity--words that our family uses. Even as an English-speaker I feel this. There are Dutch words that are deep parts of who I am, but there are also regional English words that help define me. Love this.

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    1. OH, Katie, thank you for getting it. Language is not a threat, right? It's just a part of our being. Thank you. So proud that you will share it.

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  6. One of my proudest accomplishments as a parent is that my children are bilingual. Spanish skipped a generation in my family- I was determined to stop it from happening again. I see being bilingual as the greatest gift, and in California my children can use their Spanish every single day. We can't let an ignorant bigot take that away from us.

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    Replies
    1. We should have no shame, nor feel belittled and reduced, by anyone, Jennifer. I'm with you. xo

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