“En español, mija, español!” was what my mom would tell me every time I tried to communicate my needs in English instead of Spanish. It was never done with a tone of disapproval, but as a reminder to remember who I was and where I came from — we were Puerto Rican, from the mountains of Sangerman, and it was going to show in every interaction and part of family life that tied us together.
Looking back, I thank her for instilling this pride in me and making sure that I grew up bilingual. I am able to communicate more eloquently with parts of my family that don’t speak English, and with parts of my family who still want to speak Spanish or Portuguese on a daily basis. I can speak with people who only speak these other languages and not English. I am able to read and take in information in so many ways. I am grateful for my mother’s stubborn insistence that we speak Spanish.
I know many people who get flack for refusing to speak or learn the native tongues of their parents and families. I know other families who want to become more “Americanized,” and abandoned their mother tongue because they’re embarrassed or have to assimilate to a new world. I know some people who are still fiercely proud to be Latinx, but aren’t considered Latinx "enough” because they can’t speak Spanish.
I don’t think this is fair because it changes how Latinx you are perceived by your own people. Your pride isn’t tied to this factor, but yet it’s still such a defining factor among the Latinx community of how truly Latinx you are. What matters is your pride and your acceptance of your identity.
I know everyone feels differently about how they relate to their roots and what it takes to define them, but I cringe when I hear a Latinx tell another person of their community that they aren’t worthy or the same because they don’t speak the language. No one is unworthy, and how you relate to your roots is up to you. I’m told on a daily basis that, though I am fluent, I am not Latinx enough because of my lighter skin. Again — the way you form your Latinx identity is up to you. If you feel like the absence of language is a piece of your identity that is missing, I promise you that those who criticizing for trying to learn aren’t worth your time.
Currently, I am at issue with family members of mine who are trying to fully Americanize and push away from speaking Spanish. It not only upsets me, but my extended family that had raised us to be proud. Denying the language for us was denying being Puerto Rican. It was denying our family, and everything that waits at home for us.
I’ll admit that my accent isn’t perfect, and there are times where I forget where my adjectives lie in conjunction with my nouns. But that doesn’t make me less proud Latinx.
Speaking Spanish and Portuguese is a direct relation to how I feel about my roots. It’s a part of my pride of my joy of belonging to such unique groups of people. I fill with anger when I see Latinx deny their background completely — language, culture, and all. How can you turn your back on where you came from? How can you let this be something you are ashamed of?