Midweek floater post: The anti-rhetoric

As a floater its been awhile since I posted. I have something to “say” in light of all of the anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-brown skin, anti-anything rhetoric that is being directed at the viewers of TV, at readers of any type of news publication during this ugly election cycle.

The United States loves to boast that we are somehow the greatest nation in the WORLD. Given, the U.S. does have its great things but it also has its very ugly, awful things. Depending on the region you live in, depending on the language you speak with your family, the color of your skin, and/or your sexual preference you are going to be discriminated against; be directly or indirectly.

This has struck a nerve with me as a mother raising a son in this anti-rhetoric environment. Most people who know me see me as this well educated, well schooled, confident individual. I have a B.A. in sociology, a M.A in education, and a PhD in second language acquisition. Yet raising my son as a compound bilingual – meaning he is learning two languages at the same time – has opened up some emotional wounds that never fully healed.

I moved from Puerto Rico to Arizona at the age of 5 during the mid-1980’s. Both my parents were well educated individuals and both were bilingual. Yet because of the environment we were in and my age, I was affected by the anti-migrant, anti-Mexican, anti-any-language-other-than English propaganda of the time (that still exists). Even though we were U.S. citizens and my parents spoke English, I still internalized the message that to be brown skinned and to speak Spanish at home meant that someone would think you were undocumented.

After a while I refused to speak to my parents in Spanish in public and that fear further manifested into not speaking to my parents in Spanish at home. If it were not for us moving back to PR right when I was about to start high school I would probably be monolingual right now. I was forced to reclaim my first language and in the process became better for it. My accent might never be typically Puerto Rican, but I am okay with that because I can speak Spanish, read Spanish, write Spanish at levels 5 year old me would of never achieved. I thought that I overcame the insecurity of speaking my first language but I was wrong.

Fast-forward to now. I speak to my son only in Spanish. He hears me speak to others in English and I will read him books in English but my language of communication with him is Spanish. Although I am not discriminated against openly, I feel the passive discrimination when I speak to my son in public. I have found myself wavering and occasionally talking to him in English so that people know that I can speak their language.

I am professor and yet I still feel like that little 5 year old girl when I speak Spanish in public. I feel that at any time some ignorant monolingual is going to spew some hateful words towards my son and I. In this aspect I am weak. I am afraid. I shouldn’t be, but isn’t the source of emotional “trauma”, fear of a repeat? More than anything I don’t want my son to go through what I did as a child. I don’t want him to associate Spanish with inferiority, with caution, with fear of what others will say or how others will act when they hear him speak. I so want him to live in a U.S. that stops being afraid of language, of color, of religion, of not being able to control others. I try my best to make sure that my son is surrounded by diversity in skin, in religion, in language so that he knows to be proud of himself and of the uniqueness of others; to celebrate himself and those around him.

I worked so hard to be able to be bilingual and biliterate. I don’t want him to chose to throw his abilities away in the future because of the same fears I had as a child. I have realized that all I can do is work on myself and my fears so that he sees me speak Spanish proudly in public and associates our language(s) with pride and beauty.


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