Mia: Shaken Not Stirred


The true life stories of a NYC female.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Latina and proud...


My great grandfather Candelario and my father

KANSAS CITY, Kan. - Most of the time, 16-year-old Zach Rubio converses in clear, unaccented American teen-speak, a form of English in which the three most common words are "like," "whatever" and "totally." But Zach is also fluent in his dad's native language, Spanish -- and that's what got him suspended from school.
"It was, like, totally not in the classroom," the high school junior said, recalling the infraction. "We were in the, like, hall or whatever, on restroom break. This kid I know, he's like, 'Me prestas un dolar?' ['Will you lend me a dollar?'] Well, he asked in Spanish; it just seemed natural to answer that way. So I'm like, 'No problema.' "
Link to story:Suspended for Speaking Spanish

Can somebody please tell me WTF is going on in this country? I thought these days were past us. When my great grandparents immigrated with their children to this country during the 40’s there was no such thing as bilingual education. Back then if you were caught speaking Spanish in school you were given detention and your parent had to miss a day of work to come into school. Back then educators recommended that Hispanic kids not even speak Spanish at home to their parents citing that it tended to slow the kids down and confuse them, directly affecting their ability to learn in school.

My paternal great grandparents tried their best to adhere to the recommended school policy; their children spoke very little Spanish at home. My paternal great grandfather Candelario the son of an African slave brought to Puerto Rico via Spain and a Taino mother was not too thrilled with this but his wife Maria the daughter of a Spaniard couple thought it was best. Several blocks away my maternal great grandparents Gilo and Rosa were not having it. He and my great grandmother didn’t agree with the policy of not speaking Spanish at home. It was a rule in their house that once their children came home from school English was left at the door step. They were each proud of their culture and language and were determined to instill that pride in their children. The only thing he conceded to America was his long jet black hair which went past his shoulders. He cut it after several weeks in NY at the insistence of his American employer who did not understand the reason for the long hair. My maternal great grand father Gilo a full blooded Taino had seen the price of forced assimilation by the Spaniards on his island. His grandmother Iomuna never let him forget his history or what was done to their people.

Decades later I am able to see the result of both families’ decisions on the generations that followed. My father’s family is Americanized, his parents speak Spanish poorly and do not read or write it at all. My father's generation doesn’t speak it at all of if they do they speak it with gringo accents. My mothers family is different they are all fully bilingual. When I was born my maternal grandparents insisted that I learn Spanish first saying I would learn English in school. It was kind of hard for my parents because my dad barely spoke Spanish and what little he did speak was awful, but with time my dad learned from my mom and speaks it fluently now although he can not read nor write it. I am bilingual although I feel I speak it with an accent although my mother insists I don’t.

While the fact that this kid was suspended from school infuriates me, it doesn’t shock me. There seems to be a backlash against the Spanish language by ignorant asses in this country. The funny thing in most cases they are immigrants or decendants of immigrants themselves! I had this happen at work to me with a Turkish supervisor. I promptly reminded her that she didnt seem to have a problem with when the Albanians or Turks we worked with spoke to each other in front of customers in their native language. I waved her off and ignored her warning because the customer a Spaniard tourist had approached me in Spanish. I’ve heard of people fired here in NYC from their jobs for speaking Spanish to customers despite the fact that it was the customer who started the spanish conversation. There's even a major lawsuit being waged against a department store here in NY because of workers being banned from speaking Spanish during their breaks in the store cafeteria while other workers who spoke in their native languages had no problems.

I don’t know how it works for other bilingual people I can only speak for me. Being bilingual I find myself thinking in English but sometimes when I open my mouth Spanish pops out without me even realizing it. It is second nature to me to be talking to a friend and throw in a word here and there in Spanish; I speak a mixture of Spanglish. Sometimes it even happens on this blog, I can’t help it. I find that I am not alone in this either. In life I find that Spanish speaking tourists and fellow citizens when they see me will talk to me in Spanish and it is second nature for me to reply in kind.

The fact that this kid was suspended from school for speaking Spanish scares me where is this country headed? Are we headed back into the days where immigrants like my grandparents had to be afraid for their lives, afraid to speak their native language, afraid to walk into certain neighborhoods out of fear of being jumped because of their Spanish ancestry? I refuse to go back to those days. I refuse to be afraid to speak my language in public because of intolerance. I am Latina and proud and whoever doesn’t like it better learn to deal with it because we Latinos are done with those days when we hung our heads and were made to feel ashamed of what we are.

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