English or Spanish?

Jackie, which language did you learn first: English or Spanish?

I learned both at the same time.

Ok, but, when it was time to go to college, did you still struggle with your English?

I was going to give you a moment to let that sink in, but I won’t. I know the majority of my readers, therefore I know that many of you speak/read/write in Spanish as well. So I wouldn’t be surprised if any of you have ever heard:

Oh, you write so well!

You don’t even have an accent!

You are so well-spoken!

But I don’t get it, how can you learn both at the same time?

The individual who asked me such an absurdity is college-educated, only a few years my junior. We are peers. And this peer cannot fathom the fact that I am proficient in two languages and don’t have a hard time with it. I must be frank: I was insulted at first. Me? ESL? But I am an English major! I could read and write in English and Spanish since I was four! One of my poems was featured in a creative writing anthology! Me? Then I started to wonder if my English was choppy. I talk so fast and I stutter a lot, that must be it!

Then I got pissed. Fuck whatever accent or lack of accent that I might have. Fuck what I know or how many fill-in-the-English-word test problems I can do or how many A’s I got on the fucking hundreds of essays I have written. My coworker implied that every person who speaks Spanish is stupid. They are incapable of processing words. They will struggle in high school and college and work because their parents taught them Spanish. Not just Spanish-speakers. But Creole and Japanese and French and anything not English. English English English. I love English but it is not a way to gauge someone’s intelligence. I love English but you can live your life just fine without it.

I take most things with a grain of salt and approach many experiences in my life with humor, and that is how I tell this story. But when I sit and think about it – really think about it – my blood boils. She insulted my mother and father, my sisters and family. She insulted so many of my friends and the students that I help. That person insulted my brethren. She insulted all of my people whose tongues hold orchestras of Spanish sounds. Since that day I have a grudge, and I need to get it out out OUT DAMNED SPOT OUT before I annihilate all of her preconceived notions with a few palabras en ingles. Because we know I could.

She is no better than me and I no better than she. Apparently, however, I am the only one of the two that thought so.

Advertisements