“Deslenguadas. Somos los del español deficiente. We are your linguistic nightmare, your linguistic aberration, your linguistic mestizaje, the subject of your burla. Because we speak with tongues of fire we are culturally crucified. Racially, culturally and linguistically somos huerfanos – we speak an orphan tongue.” — excerpt from Borderlands, Gloria Anzaldua
I was eight years old the first time I was taught to be ashamed of my language. Growing up in a household on this side of the frontera, it wasn’t strange for my parents to choose teaching me their primary language when it was what everyone in our community spoke. Sometimes a bit of English, but with our raza, it was either Spanish or Spanglish.
My parents were (are) pochos and grew up in America as migrant farmworkers, traveling the nation every year for work opportunities and witnessing firsthand discrimination towards their language and skin color. But it wasn’t only from those unlike them that they experienced the burlas. What was worse was that it would be from mejicanos like them that didn’t have to live their childhood working in the labores or go to school in the migrant portable rooms, where they were labeled as outcasts of the regular school system. Mejicanos like them that didn’t have papeles and spoke with an accent in their everyday lives. Eating the same type of meals but yet, felt superior because they didn’t have to come to school smelling like cebolla and prietos from the valley sun.
I remember listening to my mother and brother speak in English, with no idea as to what they were saying. I was curious, for sure. I’ve asked my parents why they chose to speak only Spanish in our household when we were kids, and they insist it is because they knew the opportunity had to be seized- you see, they knew that eventually, our way of being would become Americanized.
Moving school districts from PSJA to McAllen was a major shock to my younger brother, Luis, and me. Moving from a school where all other children were Spanish speakers like me, to a school where ESL students were placed in a portable that separated them from the ‘regular’ students. There were about 7 other kids in my particular grade level, our connection instant because we were unlike the others. We were children and naive, but we understood why we couldn’t be with the other kids. Our lunches, library visits and PE classes always consisted of us being in the corner.
That is my memory.
It took me less than six months to assimilate with the English language and move into a ‘regular’ classroom. After that experience, I decided to speak only in English when in school and around my friends. Peer pressure to fit in, I suppose. But I still had the environment of our frontera culture to let me fit in with my relatives on the other side, in Reynosa.
Times have changed. It’s been almost five years since the last time I crossed the frontera, and what saddens me most is realizing my nieces and nephews will never know the frontera as I do. Their world only consists of este la’o and they have never met or visited la familia in Mexico.
Not because of a physical border, but that invisible border called fear.