By Mary Moreno
This is an overdue apology to the three best friends I made at the University of Texas. I'm sorry for all the times I ridiculed you for being Latinas who didn't speak Spanish.
I've been meaning to write this for a while now. Recently, I was finally motivated to do so by a comment on Twitter directed at Voto Latino. "Latinos huh? I wonder do they even speak Spanish?!," read the tweet.
Back when I was 18, (a long time ago) I was that arrogant. I looked down on those who shared my skin color but not my linguistic gift. I didn't realize how wrong I was to impose my experiences, my background on everyone else. Now, I know better. Now, I realize that my ability to speak Spanish is not really a great accomplishment since it wasn't my choice to learn it.
I grew up in Hidalgo County, Texas, a region that's nearly 90 percent Latino and almost exclusively of Mexican origin, and my only trips away from it were to visit relatives in Mexico or Houston. In my pre-college world, everyone was Mexican and spoke Spanish. Even in the used car commercials, the white guy joked that he also spoke English.
My Mexican immigrant parents only speak Spanish. When my mother yelled at me to come inside or yelled at my brothers to stop fighting, she did it in Spanish. When my father railed against the government or preached from the pulpit (he was a Pentecostal minister), he did it in Spanish. Even now, around my mother my siblings and I speak mostly in Spanish so she won't feel left out, unless we're plotting something we don't want her to know about.
My best friends in college didn't share that upbringing. Their parents and grandparents weren't immigrants. Their families had been in Texas for generations, and somewhere along the way, they stopped speaking Spanish. Lisa, Valerie and Priscilla did understand Spanish. They just weren't fluent.
It was quite a shock to meet three Latinas who weren't fluent, and I let them know many times how weird it seemed to me. I'm embarrassed about it now, but I questioned their Latina identity. Like who made me the arbiter of who is and isn't Latino?
And now, I'm sorry. I'm sorry I was so close-minded, stupid and obnoxious. Next time I'm in Texas, I'll buy y'all a beer.
PS: In case you're wondering, I did respond to the tweet questioning Latinos' ability to speak Spanish. "Algunos hablamos Español, some of us speak English & some both. Nos une mas q un idioma. Nos une nuestra herencia y cultura."
Mary Moreno is the communications director at Voto Latino. Before joining VL, she worked as a crime reporter for five newspapers and as a press secretary for two DC nonprofits. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she's a proud Texan who currently lives in DC. For other posts by Mary Moreno, click here.