Does Language Define Your Identity?

Speaking Spanish is extremely important in Latino identity. But what if you don’t speak Spanish? Does that make you less Latino?

I went to eat lunch with a friend of mine at a Mexican restaurant the other day. We’re both Hispanic and can speak the language. She ordered first. Her Spanish and accent were flawless. I had recited in my head what I was going to say and practiced before she ordered. When it was my turn, my Spanish and accent wasn’t up to par. After the waitress took our orders and left, my friend turned to me and said: “Oh my God, your Spanish!”

I felt my cheeks flush with embarrassment before I could get a word out. I felt like I wasn’t Latina enough.

In the past, people who moved to the United States were discriminated against  because they didn’t understand or speak English. When these people had children, they decided they wanted their children to focus on speaking English, instead of Spanish, to save them from being discriminated against.

In this case, does not speaking Spanish make you less Latino? Does speaking Spanish make you more Latino? Um, no.

For example, Mexican singer Selena wasn’t raised speaking Spanish. She had to learn the language as a young adult. Despite this, she is still referred to as a Latina idol.

Not speaking Spanish is, unfortunately, a common issue with those of us who are of Latino descent but were raised in the United States. It puts up a wall between us and our culture.

But our culture also claims that if you don’t do this or you don’t speak this then you’re not Latino enough. If you don’t know the slang of your country or if you didn’t grow up with certain stories or fairy tales, you can’t refer to yourself as Latino.

I grew up with characters like the Tooth Fairy and the Boogeyman, but my cousin who was raised in Cuba did not. He grew up knowing the stories of El Coco (or El Cuco) and El Ratoncito Pérez.

Does that make him more Cuban then me? Or make me less Cuban than him? No. Our culture is more than just the language you speak or the stories you hear. It is about family, love, laughter and so much more.

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