Indiana Daily Student

Black Voices: Not all Latinos speak Spanish—and that’s okay

No, I am not fluent in Spanish. But I am really good at smiling and nodding. 

I have tried time and time again to become conversationally fluent in Spanish, but I am almost 20 years old now, and to be honest, I do not think it’s going to happen.

I live with my parents and my grandma, and all three of them are fluent, so why am I not fluent? Well, I can sit here and give you the backstory or try to explain why I cannot speak Spanish, but honestly, why do I owe you an explanation?

I don’t. 

I am extremely proud of my culture, my family, my identity and everything that comes along with it—the good and the bad. I am proud to be Mexican. Not speaking Spanish does not make me any less Latina than anyone else, and I will always believe that.

Y siempre lo creeré.

I cannot begin to recall the amount of times people have made sly jabs at me about my poor Spanish. It used to make me irate until I decided I would not let it anymore. People still call me whitewashed and tell me I am a “bad Mexican” or “not Mexican enough” to this day, but what does any of that even mean? 

Why am I “not Mexican enough” because I cannot fluently speak a language? That is like saying I am not Mexican enough because I don’t walk around wearing a sombrero on my head while singing corridos every day.

How can someone be a “bad Mexican”? If you ask me, I am actually a pretty damn good Mexican, and all I’m doing is existing. A language barrier does not invalidate my Latinidad. 

“Oh, you’re Mexican? Prove it, speak Spanish.”

I love that line: it is one of my favorites. One time I answered a person back by asking what kind of white they were, and when they responded German, I said “No way, prove it, speak German.”

It seems aggressive at first, but it just goes to show how the idea that all Latinos speak Spanish is a double standard. It does not stop there. I honestly feel more invalidation coming from other Mexicans regarding my Spanish skills, or lack thereof. 

Why are we turning on each other?

The only difference between us is that my Spanish is broken, and your Spanish is solid. I think it makes me feel so much worse when other Latinos make fun of me about it versus when white people do because it makes me question my whole identity.

I am not white, and I grew up differently than white people, so I don’t feel like I can identify with them. But when I have other Mexican people telling me I am not Mexican because I cannot speak Spanish, then it feels like I cannot identify with them either. So where does that leave me?

I guess there is a group of us. The “Yo no sabo” kids. 

One thing about Mexicans is we give good nicknames. They might be offensive and are often inspired by your biggest insecurity, but they are good. The “Yo no sabo” kid nickname is a joke used to refer to Latinos who are not fluent in Spanish because they grew up in the United States with English as their first language. It is supposed to be slightly offensive, but I am not offended by it anymore.

I am a “Yo no sabo” kid…and actually, lo sé y no me importa.

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