By Alva Chavez
She came home one day, ready to tell mom about something funny that happened in school. “Mi maestro de Español dijo pene!” my sister exclaimed. Translation: “My Spanish teacher said penis!”
A flashback from the days I was taught by that same teacher struck me: with his red plaid shirt and a belt that only someone unaware of the Mexican culture would think is actually Mexican, he taught me that tio meant friend, but to me, the only definition tio had was uncle. I became frustrated when I, along with my fellow Spanish speaking classmates, tried to explain my point of view. He was teaching us based on his knowledge of Spanish from Spain, but failed to acknowledge that his students only knew Latin dialects of Spanish.
The whole situation made me question the environment around me. Why was a white teacher teaching me Spanish and not a Latino? A Latino would understand my culture, he/she would speak and teach the dialect of Spanish that Latinos in the U.S. would understand, and he/she wouldn’t speak Spanish in such a heavy accent that when he/she says peine it ends up sounding like pene.
Why did only less than half of my classmates speak fluent Spanish even though they were all Latinos? The percentage of Latinos speaking Spanish at home has decreased from 78% in 2000 to 73% in 2013. The numbers are expected to continue decreasing. Additionally, according to Census Bureau projections, the number of Hispanics who speak only English at home will rise from 26% in 2013 to 34% in 2020. At the same time, those who speak Spanish at home will decrease from 73% to 66%. Latinos born in the U.S. tend to speak only English even though their parents only understand Spanish. And most of those who learn Spanish when their young do not continue speaking it once they have learned English.
Latinos born in the U.S. seem to be speaking less and less Spanish, “but for a language to remain alive it must be used.” We have created our own culture, and the only way to keep it alive is to keep speaking Spanish. Now, I’m not saying to only speak Spanish. But there must be a balance between the two languages. We balance other aspects of our culture. We dance bachata and salsa while also dancing hip-hop. We eat Latin food while also eating hamburgers and pizza. When the Spanish came, the indigenous tribes living in Latin America had to abandon their culture and assimilate. Similar things are happening with Latinos in the U.S., but this time, it is of our own doing.
It is hard to keep that balance, I struggle to keep that balance. Everyone around me knows English, and it’s the language taught at school. English is the language out in the work world. And learning it is necessary to be successful, but speaking Spanish is necessary for other reasons, like keeping a new culture and an old culture connected. Those of us that can speak Spanish should continue to do so and teach others. Those of us who can’t should learn.