Does not knowing my father’s language really mean I’m not Colombian enough?
Disclaimer: Yes, I’m mixed but that doesn’t mean ‘m talking for all mixed kids. There are so many mixes out their but this is just mine and my experience*
I grew up knowing my identity as a daughter of a Colombian father and a Haitian mother, yet I was considered someone who wasn’t “in touch with my roots”. I wasn’t a fluent speaker of Spanish or Creole but does that truly mean I’m less than either? I know I’m not alone in this struggle as many second and even first-generation kids go through the same shit.
Both my parents actively spoke different languages, on top of English. You’d think I’d manage to be fluent in one right? Wrong. Spanish wasn’t discussed enough at home so there was really any way for me to learn it. School barely adapted to our personal educational needs, so what makes you think a fluency in Spanish would be a priority?
People would question my ethnicity because I was not fluent in Spanish. My Spanish isn’t terrible; I can understand some, but if I were dropped off in a Spanish-speaking country I would survive, I just wouldn’t really live in a way. I couldn’t contribute to society the same way I do now with English.
This rarely happens when it comes to my Haitian side, specifically because the relationship between Creole and Haitians isn’t as universal as Spanish is to other Hispanics. But dealing with this on one side of my family didn’t change the fact that the effects it had on me was, in many ways, traumatic.
The fact that I couldn’t speak Spanish was a turn off. Not just for potential romantic relationships, but for friends, strangers and even distant relatives.
How are you Colombian but can’t understand the language?
This was the constant question received from different groups, a constant reminder that I will never be Hispanic enough. If my pronunciation was “wrong” then so was I.
It wasn’t until I got older that I realized how I felt about not being taught the language that connects so many people. Spanish was a gateway to others as well as my own family and myself. I didn’t know the language and in turn it made me unfamiliar with myself. The alienations I described before were things I’d later internalize. I started to believe it wasn’t even possible to be as Hispanic as the next person without knowing Spanish fluently.
I know I’m not alone in this struggle. Many first and second generation kids who are of Hispanic origin and can’t speak the language, are often made to feel like they aren’t part of the community. I unfortunately fell victim to this as well. I feel uncomfortable when I’m put in a position where I have to speak Spanish, and it sucks. The feeling alienates me even more to the point where I just don’t want to speak it. I hesitate when I have to go into a Colombian bakery and order in Spanish, but it shouldn’t be that way.
I am who I am
Regardless of whether I’m fluent or not, it doesn’t mean I’m more or less Colombian than the next person. I got to a point where I learned to love myself and my culture but somehow that was never coming across for other people. I really could care less now if somebody came at me crazy for not speaking Spanish. I no longer need to look for validation because at the end of the day, I am Colombian.
I might not have grown up speaking the language, but that doesn’t mean I didn’t grow up completely immersed in the Colombian culture.
Language is obviously an important aspect of a culture, but I still represent. I know the food, music, and traditions, I still get hype about going to the local spot to watch the Colombia national team play, and you can bet your ass when the shots of Aguardiente come around, I’m taking multiple (pero sin azucar but I’ll drink both lmfao or else I really wouldn't be Colombian).
Culture isn’t dependent on language
If you’re in the same boat as me, but still need affirmation, there are many things you can do to feel one with the culture around you.
Try listening to more music in Spanish, whether it’s Romeo Santos or Myke Towers. Maybe you could finally ask your parents or grandparents to show you how to make some family recipes or hear about family stories. Do your research and don’t be afraid to get more involved.
Remember, your identity and journey is your own, it’s never too late to embrace the things that make you, YOU!