Thursday, February 14, 2013

I'm losing my Spanish

A dear friend and neighbor has let me borrow her Spanish Rosetta Stone.

What little bit of Spanish I know has been ebbing a little bit each day since my mom left for California nearly fourteen months ago, and it really bothers me. A lot. I've not directly written about it, rather have tortured you with what were once my regular, but are now sporadic posts on Spanish Friday. I can't tell you how grateful I am to my fellow bloggers and friends who encouraged me two years ago to participate, because had it been left up to me, I would've probably never attempted to express myself in what had once been my mother tongue. Why not? Well, for a few reasons.

I grew up the first six years of my life in a home that was mostly Spanish speaking. You see, although my parents had immigrated several years earlier from Mexico, they still spoke broken English. My father was the only one in the family who had the opportunity to practice thanks to his owning a barber shop in a neighborhood whose residents were mainly English speaking, a demographic that would change within a few years.

If there were classes for English Language Learners, otherwise known as ELL, my sisters and I never saw them. On day one of kindergarten we were plopped into what are considered "mainstream," or "total immersion" classes. Don't ask me how I picked up English. It just happened that one day I understood what the teacher said.

From that day forward everything at home changed. My sisters and I only spoke to each other in English, TV, the movies, almost all our activities were in English. It's what our parents encouraged, even though they continued to speak to us in Spanish, but did not require us to respond in like. They wanted to learn to English that bad. At the expense of our Spanish, because they knew that it was the only way to succeed in this country at a time when it was a stigma to speak any other language but English.

The years went by and I never really thought about whether I spoke "proper" Spanish, especially since I went to schools mostly attended by white students and where I couldn't have spoken Spanish with anybody even if I had wanted to. This is why I find it comical, ironic, really, that years later when my sisters and I were teenagers, our parents would come down hard on us when we mangled our Spanish verbs and pronouns when addressing Spanish-speaking customers and family friends. That's when confusion started to set in for me and I decided that I'd keep my bad Spanish to myself.

Sitting here years later I wish that different decisions had been made and wonder how things might've turned out had we not learned English, or fully assimilated in the seventies. The realization is bittersweet and I regret that they did not preserve the remaining connection I have to my ethnic identity. I try to not be angry with my parents, but I understand.