Yesterday, we were having an interesting discussion about race and the labels that are connected to it. It was an interesting discussion, especially when it comes to my own personal convictions about labels and race. Unfortunately, I have confronted these issues before but never really felt the a personal need to explain myself. I joined countless others on Twitter to discuss #Latism. Now with the Zimmerman issue it comes to light about what is a label and how does it reflect a culture?
Culture is something fluid to me. It is not neccesarily set in stone because if it was than perhaps we as indiginous would not have adapted so well to forced Catholic religion. We adapt to our culture out of several different reasons and in the same breath can easily delflect or reject our idea of what is Latino culture?
I use the term Latino but have never quite accepted it as who I am. The real me is like a chasm of neverending evolution, my Abuelitos on both sides had to adapt to America. They evolved our culture and our language or Spanglish. My family stays where it was born and until recently other members have left for bigger cities but always in Texas. Let me tell you, it ain’t easy leaving Tejas.
I was born in Falfurrias, Tx, a small town about 45 miles away from Corpus Christi and about 65 miles away from the Rio Grande Valley. Falfurrias probably has a few actual stop lights. My abuelos lived on a small parcel of land and my Tio has a small rancho (farm). Abuelo had pigs, chickens, goats and he grew a small garden. Every morning when I stayed there I was given the task of feeding the chickens and gathering eggs.
I had what one would call Receptive Spanish. When learning a second language, one has a receptive language and can answer in English or reverse. My abuelo could understand English but answered in Spanish. The debate of “Well, they should just learn English” is far more complex than people realize. It takes almost five years to learn conversational English. If you do not have fluency in your L1 (Primary language) than learning a second language becomes more difficult.
My mother as a child was spanked and humiliated in school for speaking Spanish. They were forced to just learn, sink or swim people. Cesar Chavez went through something similar. My mom never taught us Spanish. We knew slang. Tex-Mex and we blended our language like our culture.
Spanish was abrasive for me. I hated it. I will admit it. It wasn’t until I read “ And the Earth did not Devour Me” by Tomas Rivera that I began to understand. I was a brown one. Morena, Prieta, dark skinned, marry up (white) not down (black). Yeah, I did not heed that advice.
My grandparents did not go to school on my mother’s side. Abuelo worked in the fields, was a plumber, and a welder. He was hard working, never asked for help, and had pride. Abuelo used to tell us in Spanish “Just because we are poor does not mean we have to look poor, act poor, or speak poor.”
Abuela had a deep pride for his family. There is a family story where Abuelo spoke of an Anglo employer (by the way Anglo, is the terms used in Texas to distinguish White, I am truly sorry if this offends) who once called my cousins who were playing outside “Dirty Mexicans”. Abuelo quit. They asked him not to leave but he said he couldn’t work for them if they didn’t respect him.
That stuck with me for a very long time, a long time. I am not a city girl. I am Country girl who came from a family of four College graduates in the second generation and two in the first. My mom and dad are both college graduates and I have no immigration experience. My whole life was on a place filled with cicadas, mesquite trees, the annoying mehs of a goat. It is place where if you do not go to College then you work for the Norias (oil field).
It is a place somewhat resistant to change and even has its own personal issues with race, color, classism, and the like. I do not speak Spanish in my home but I am now bilingual. I taught in Spanish and I wrote lessons in Spanish. However, I was like Selena. I could read Spanish very well and write sentences but I was not what you would call fluent. I could fake it until I made it.
As I submerged myself into Chicano Studies in college, I realized why I felt like an outsider. I could angolicize my name but I would never be given the opportunity to assimilate. How could I? I was brown. It was that realization that changed my life. I am who I am. Spanish or not but Spanish is not what connects me to my roots.
What connects me to my roots is food, music, traditions, and religion, not Spanish. I know how to skin a deer, make cabrito in huge steel vats for Easter. I can BBQ. I eat tacos de barbacoa and used to watch in amazement as Abuelo wrapped the Cow head in foil paper and placed it into a hole to smoke overnight. I learned the importance of marriage and doing what was right.
I learned how to weld discos for fryng tripas and I shoveled poop. Yeah, that sucked. In essence, the language is one small part of who I really am. By the way, I don’t celebrate Cinco de Mayo and if you ask me why. I will throw a boot at you.
To be continued…