What It’s Like to Not Speak the Language of Your People

Contrary to popular belief, not all Latinxs speak Spanish. Many speak other languages, such as Brazilians who speak Portuguese and other indigenous groups throughout Latin America who speak a native language. My family, for example, speaks both Spanish and Garifuna, an indigenous language spoken throughout Central America; however, like many Latinxs, I do not speak either.

I was always aware of the fact that I only spoke English. I knew that I was not fluent in either language, but I have always understood both of them so I never saw it as an issue until I got older. I slowly started to notice how all of my friends were able to have flowing conversations with their family members, without awkward pauses that usually occurred with my family due to the language barrier between us. When they talked to their families, there was no confusion about what was being said, nor was there a need for another family member to translate what was being said.

I started to feel bad about the fact that I couldn’t speak the native tongues of my people. Whenever I was with my family, I always heard, “It’s a shame she can’t even carry a conversation. What’s going to happen if she has kids?” or other little digs here and there, thinking that I wouldn’t understand, but I always did. It wasn’t until I went to a predominately white high school that the fact that I was not fluent in either language, but more specifically Spanish, made me start to feel even worse about the whole situation.

“Why is it that I have to prove my ethnicity to you just because I do not fit your “standards” of what a Latinx should look and sound like?”

As someone who does not “look” Latina according to Western stereotypes, whenever I told, or more so tried to explain to, someone from my school about my ethnicity, I heard a range of the following:

  1. “Oh, but you don’t look it, how is that even possible?”,
  2. But why are you so dark? Shouldn’t you be tan or something?”,
  3. “But you don’t have an accent like they do? Do you even speak Spanish?”,
  4. “But you’re black, you can’t be Hispanic too,”
  5. “So you’re Mexican right?”,
  6. “But you don’t look like my maid though,”
  7. “But your hair? Shouldn’t it be long and thick? Why is it curly?”, and my personal favorite,
  8. “I don’t believe you. Prove it. Speak Spanish then.”

Why is it that I have to prove my ethnicity to you just because I do not fit your “standards” of what a Latinx should look and sound like? Why is it that speaking Spanish has become equated with what it means to be a Latinx?

Although I wish I had been raised speaking both Spanish and Garifuna, I do not and nor do I have to speak Spanish to prove who I am to you. I will learn and be able to speak both Spanish and Garifuna fluently one day because I want to learn, not to prove a point that I shouldn’t even have to. So to all my fellow Latinxs who do not speak their family’s native tongue and feel a burden because of it, it is okay. You don’t have to speak your language if you do not want to, and if you do want to, you can and will learn one day! So no, not all Latinxs speak Spanish, but we aren’t any less Latinx because of it.

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