Pero Like is a channel launched by BuzzFeed with the intent to diversify its content and connect with English-speaking Latinxs who are often misrepresented by the media. Pero Like posts weekly Youtube videos that showcase a wide range of topics like “What Afro-Latinos Want You To Know,” “Life After Hurricane Maria,” and even “Different Ways Latinos Say Hello.” If you have not checked out this channel, you are missing out!
Being a Latina, who is not fluent in Spanish, can be an uncomfortable position and as a Puerto Rican in that same position, I understand exactly it feels.
Growing up, it didn’t really bother me that I didn’t speak Spanish. Sure, I got mad when I was called the “gringa” of the family and yes, I hated phone calls with my grandfather that always ended in an awkward silence followed by, “Uh... Ok Abuelo, bendicion. Bye!” But, as a child, the fact that a huge piece of my culture skipped my generation didn’t seem like a big deal to me. Around the holidays, it actually came in handy! My parents would always discuss my Christmas gifts around me, in Spanish, anticipating that I had no idea what they were saying. But, what they failed to realize was that even though I wasn’t fluent, I almost always understood their conversations which gave me easy access to knowing where my gifts were hidden.
However, this sense of naiveté quickly diminished. As I got older, I was embarrassed, ashamed, and confused that I couldn’t speak the language that flowed from the tongues of my older family members. Whenever I fail to hold a conversation with my grandparents or am simply too nervous to order for myself at a Puerto Rican restaurant, I am confronted with the same question every time: “Ay Dios mio! How are you Boricua, but you can’t speak Spanish!?”
It is even more embarrassing when strangers approach me in stores, or on the train, speaking Spanish at 100 miles a minute, and I can’t even properly respond. I always have an immense urge to do so, but I often conceal my shame with the “Just Smile & Laugh” strategy to avoid revealing that my Spanish sucks and is probably equivalent to the Spanish of the white boys who think it is funny to pronounce “llama” like the animal.
Where does this shame come from? Well, for as long as anyone can remember, in order for minorities and immigrants to achieve the American Dream, or simply be tolerated in this country at all, they have to assimilate to American “culture.”
This means punishing students for speaking their native language in class.
This means sending children home for repping their country’s flag at school.
This means not wanting to play an Aventura classic because you were told that bachata sounds like elevator music.
This means only speaking English at the mall to prevent a rerun of the time a Macy’s employee overheard your aunt speaking Spanish in the parking lot and just wanted to “make sure no one was stealing.”
The more we accomodate for a system that supports white supremacy, the closer our cultures get to becoming a thing of the past and I hate to be a product of that equation. So, to all the other Latinxs out there who don’t speak Spanish, here are a couple of things to consider:
1. It’s Never Too Late To Learn! There are plenty of ways to learn our language and we should utilize them! Download the DuoLingo app and practice on the ride to class. Register for Rosetta Stone! Or even take the Spanish 111 course, a course that is designed for students with little experience in Spanish or may have significant contact with a Spanish-speaking environment. The resources are there and our language is far too rich and beautiful for it to skip another generation.
2. Do Not Doubt Your “Latin-ness. I don’t care how many times someone tells you that you are a “fake Latina.” At the end of the day, we all eat the same arroz con gandules, fry the same maduros, binge watch the same novelas, and run away from the same chancelta. You’re not alone. Be proud that you are Latina and do not think that you are any less.