Feature photo by swanksalot
For about as long as I can remember, I’ve been scrutinized. “For what?” you ask. Here is an admission I rarely tell anyone: My name is Raul Trevino, and I don’t speak Spanish. I’m not the only one though. Throughout my life I have met a handful of people like me with the same issue, ironically at the same time that millions of Mexicans in America struggle with learning English as a second language. The frustration of not being able to properly order an elote still haunts me. I’d stand in front of the cart trying to get myself some corn, but I had no luck completing that simple task. The vendor would just look at me like I was insane. So, I had to rely on friends from that point on to assist me in my elote or paleta endeavors. Now throughout my life I require a friend nearby to act as a translator.
Even in certain areas of the city, it is not beneficial to not speak Spanish. I once worked at the Walgreen’s in Little Village, and believe me that experience was unpleasant. Customers would constantly ask questions in Spanish, leaving me bewildered. Of course, because of the neighborhood, that is completely understandable. Many people resented me for coming into their neighborhood and not being able to speak Spanish. Without a doubt, at that job I felt like more of an outcast than ever. It was like being in a black hole, and I don’t mean the arcade next door. Sometimes you feel like an alien when you are the only monolingual person in a predominantly Mexican neighborhood. In the end, this was probably the cause for my later social anxiety problems. I still don’t understand why it is such a big deal. Many people who are Chinese, Indian, Polish, or any other ethnicity are not automatically expected to speak their language.
In the eyes of many, I’m looked at as a disgrace. More traditional Mexicans take this as me not embracing my roots. On the contrary, I have never been ashamed of my Mexican heritage. Every opportunity I get I always inject my culture into what I do. Still the fact remains that many Latinos regard people like me as “white-washed.” Many of us Chicanos have been made to feel ashamed for not being able to speak the language. Often I feel uncomfortable and excluded when I don’t understand the conversation and laughter around me. This problem actually goes deeper. It seems for years there has been social segregation between Chicanos and Mexican immigrants. In the streets or even in the schools the animosity is felt between the two. When all is said and done, we are all just Mexicans in America.
One question still remains: Why don’t I speak Spanish? Actually the answer is the same many others give. My parents never taught me and never spoke Spanish at home. My grandfather was adamant about not having his kids speak Spanish in public. It was a different time, a time when Mexicans had to conceal their identities. If someone were clearly viewed as a Latino, that person would be treated differently. Even after all the accomplishments from such beloved Mexican musicians as Ritchie Valens and Carlos Santana, America still had a distaste for our kind. Now I find it difficult to learn Spanish. I’ve taken classes but don’t seem to retain enough of the info to be completely fluent. The major irony in it all is that most Americans need to know Spanish now. How great is that. Every main menu over the phone offers English and Spanish options. Most Americans inadvertently learn Spanish to deal with their everyday lives. As much as the right-wing conservatives loathe us, we are a major part of American culture. For many Mexican Americans, not speaking Spanish doesn’t mean we are of ashamed of our culture. It’s the direct result of an awful legacy of generations of American racism, one that my grandparents and many others were victims of.