Do You Espeak Spanish?

By Ulisses Sanchez, Our Tiempo

Cristina doesn’t, Eva does and Jessica is in progress.

Although I am often told that I wear my nopál on my forehead, I sometimes find myself a bit self-conscious about being perceived as Not Latino enough.  True, it isn’t something that I think about while I listen to Josh Groban in my car (as many of you recently found that), but I think it is something that can be questioned by many with a simple slip of the tongue.  In this case, your own ability to speak Spanish’ along with how you speak Spanish, can cause your cultural credentials to be brought up for questioning.

While genetics can play a role in one’s accent, the area where they are raised carries just as much if not more weight in the matter.

Recently, I hung out with a friend who made reference to how many friends perceive her because of how she speaks Spanish. “… As far as some of my friends are concerned, I’m as White of a Mexican as one can be.” she said.  “One time during Christmas, I asked my family if I could have a tamál to eat.  But when I said it, I said ‘tamál’ like a white girl would.”  Try saying “Jamal” in English but use a “T” instead of a “J;”  Yes, that is it!  She mentioned a few other instances, with the recurring theme in her stories being that people around her would bring attention to her Spanish speaking abilities as being “not Latino enough”.

While attending public schools in Los Angeles, I had many Latino friends who did not speak any Spanish.  I remember one time in junior high, I made a joke in Spanish to a friend of mine and he did not understand what I said because he did not speak Spanish.  Growing up in Boyle Heights, I expected that all Latinos would know Spanish because I along with all my neighbors knew Spanish and didn’t believe that any Latino could grow up in LA and not speak Spanish.  When I asked him why he did not speak Spanish, he said that his parents were 2nd generation Latinos and knew very little Spanish, so it was never spoken around the house.

For many Latinos who grew up in the United States from the 1930′s to the 1960′s, it was common practice not to speak Spanish whenever possible, out of fear of discrimination and harassment by Whites and the police, especially after the Zoot Suit Riots.  Somebody who grew up in such an environment is LA’s current Mayor, Antonio Villaraigosa, who has said that he did not grow up speaking Spanish because it was not spoken in his home.  He eventually learned Spanish; but that came years later when his career began in public service and he continued to develop his linguistic skills by engaging thousands of monolingual Spanish-speaking constituents throughout LA.

Contrary to public theory, not all Latinos are raised in a household where Spanish is the primary language spoken and where Sabado Gigante occupies their home televisions on Saturday night.  In many new immigrant households, parents will force their children to speak English as much as possible with their siblings and with their friends.  Believing that if you are forced to speak English you will find yourself improving your verbal skills at a quicker rate, and thereby assimilate better into American society.  When it is an issue about survival, you adapt to your surroundings and that is what they do.

So regardless of whether you speak Spanish with an accent, if you do not know Spanish, or simply have Josh Groban on your iPod’s playlist, do not let others’ opinions make you feel that you are not Latino enough.  I’ll wrap this up because my Pacifico is getting a little warm (yes, I have a few limes in it) because it would not be proper as a Latino to let my beer get warm.

If something is going down in Los Angeles, chances are that Ulisses is knows about it. His extensive network of friends in the politics and entertainment can have him in any part of LA on any given night. From happy hours to political mixers, from concerts to taquerias, he’ll always point you in the right direction. You can follow him on Twitter @the_uliverse

[Image Courtesy Donna Reyes]

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