The Experiences of a First-Generation American

EA picture of Cotopaxi, a volcano in the Ecuadorean province, Pichincha

Being born to an immigrant mother most would think that Spanish is my native language, and although I speak it well, it is not my native tongue, English is. My native language is English due to being born in America, and being surrounded by individuals who would mostly speak this language; my second language is Spanish because it is my mother’s primary form of communication as it is her native tongue. As I grew older, I found myself having a hard time remembering Spanish, which made it difficult for me to understand and communicate with family members. Gradually, I was able to balance and retain my knowledge of communicating in both English and Spanish and became fluent in both languages in elementary school.

Oftentimes, I would try to hide my Hispanic roots and I would speak in English, even if my mother was addressing me in Spanish. At a young age, I was able to understand both languages, but I could only speak fluently in English. I wasn’t able to speak both until I went to South America for my summer vacation in elementary school. I was able to learn a lot and retain more of the language since I would live there for two months. However, when I came back to the U.S., I had forgotten some English words and could not read a book as well as I did before leaving for Ecuador. It was a rather simple book too, part of a series that I enjoyed as a child. I was able to read the whole book without any difficulties prior to leaving; when I came back, I couldn’t remember three words and it was as if they were new words I had never seen. I struggled with this linguistic imbalance of forgetting how to fluently speak Spanish, and forgetting a few English words.  I was able to speak both well when I was about eight years old, but as time went on my speaking ability dwindled. The disheartening part was that I would still be ridiculed for either being “too Latina” for knowing Spanish or “too American” for having an accent when I spoke Spanish. 

The most vivid memory I have regarding language was when I was in a shop with my mother in her home country. I was explaining to the woman what kind of bag I wanted, but my Spanish was not the best. She looked at me and said, “No eres de aqui, verdad,” which translates to, “You’re not from here, right.” My mother told her how I was a foreigner and apologized for my broken Spanish. Once we left the store, she was yelling at me and said that I should know how to speak Spanish better and that I had just embarrassed her. This was really hurtful to hear as a child and made me wish I could speak perfectly in both languages. It also gave me a new perspective as to how you may be treated if you can not assimilate well enough with a certain group or vice versa. Language is so special and essential when it comes to connecting with others, but it can also be something that creates animosity or discomfort between individuals who may have conflicting perspectives or outlooks over certain topics. It allows us to hold a deeper understanding of another individual and be able to create a more meaningful connection when communicating properly and courteously. Respecting words, or names, of other languages displays the consideration held for the other individual and depicts how language can shift from ignorance to appreciation if you are simply educated and respectful of the cultures and thoughts of others. 

“Why do many individuals choose to remain ignorant of other cultures?” I believe a great part of this is due to how ethnocentric many individuals can be. Since they believe that their culture is “superior” to others, they won’t even try to understand or learn about others and how their cultural differences are also beautiful and unique. Certain communities value specific things that others may not, and their way of life can just be drastically different because the values instilled in that society diverge from others. Many are just selfish and do not want to see others thrive, which is just one of the many sad realities we have to face today. Humility, appreciation, and understanding are all things we are able to achieve if we put in the effort. People are able to make great changes by simply taking the time and attempting to become knowledgeable and respectful of others.

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