Spanglish by Elena

28 Jan 2020 12:58 PM

Guest Blogger Guest Blogger

When I first started in my major in Global Resource Systems here at Iowa State, I was tasked with fulfilling language credits for my major, and it provided me a unique opportunity.

See, when I was in high school, I had taken American Sign Language and fully committed myself to become as conversational in the language as I could. While Spanish was offered, I was afraid to join a class in a city where 63% of the population is Latinx, and I would be the only Latinx student in the classes.

Growing up with a diverse and large family, Spanish was never our primary mode of communication. Still, we would also not only say things in English all the time, either. I would kiss my grandmother goodnight, and she would always say, “see you in the mañana,” or my grandfather would always affectionately refer to me as “mija.” Spanglish, or when Spanish and English are combined into sentences and vocabulary, is the language that I would find myself in with my family. I never would have to speak in full sentences with proper grammar. Still, I could always understand when my grandmother would tell me to do something when half of the sentence was in Spanish. However, part of my identity as a Chicana woman in the United States meant that I had to at least be partially if not fully bilingual in Spanish and in English. This made taking Spanish classes challenging because it was a way to face daily how I was “inadequate” as a Chicana.

Photo of Elena and two grandpares

Me an mis abuelos

Once arriving at Iowa State, I knew that if I was ever going to start taking classes to learn the proper way in which to speak Spanish, this was my opportunity. I enrolled in classes in my freshman year and have been in just as many Spanish classes as classes for my major.

These classes provided a different challenge for me, though, to be taught a language that I should somehow intrinsically know by individuals for whom Spanish was mostly their second language felt like a different form of embarrassment. I knew that I would have the advantage of practicing what I was learning with my family, but it still became challenging to face this significant part of my identity.

One of the only places in which I never suffered shame or embarrassment was in conversations with my grandparents. I could always talk to them about what I was learning, and they would tell me point-blank whether or not it was something that individuals would use in their daily vernacular or rather if it was “some weird rule from Spain that they put on us” as my grandfather would say. Once I asked my grandmother a question about grammar, and she responded, “this is not the language our ancestors spoke, Mija.”

It was not until very recently that I had an open and honest conversation with my grandmother that she explained the depths to which her school would punish her for speaking a language that was native to her, and in the same city I live in. She described how she would constantly be sent to the principal’s office and how teachers would say derogatory things about Spanish and to those who spoke it.

Here I am now, only two generations later, trying to relearn a part of my identity from a country that once tried to erase it. Restructuring how I went about my classes now is a small act of resistance. I am working to retain part of my identity in a place where conformity would be better suited to make others feel comfortable with my presence. For those who know me, this is not how I move about in the world though.

My identity is an extremely complex idea and one that I continuously grapple. My identity cannot be solidified down to a single part of my being; I am not just woman; I am not just student; I am not just Chicana; not only a speaker of Spanglish; I am an accumulation of all the parts. So yes, I am by no means fluent in Spanish, but I am in the process of becoming. My identity should not be strapped down to a single part that I either do or do not know. I am a unique and striking individual, one that holds complexities in which I am still in the process of figuring out myself.

In My Words     Latinx, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences