By Yessika Carmen
I didn’t speak a word of English when I stepped foot into my kindergarten classroom at the age of five. But that all changed by the time I was a second grader. See, my Ama thought I’d have a better education if she signed me up to be bused from our agricultural, immigrant-filled hometown to a white suburb a few towns over. That I’d be better off being “Americanized,” and I guess she was right in a way. But because of my school’s policy, once a kid was “Americanized” enough, they’d be removed from the bilingual program and put in English only classrooms. Now I have trouble saying Aguacate without sounding it out. Even though I still think in Spanish, my mouth betrays those thoughts as English words spew out easier and faster than I can translate.
When white people find this all out they exclaim, “You’re so lucky, you don’t have an accent!” As if my native tongue being cut off was a blessing. On the other side, I have mi gente telling me “Spanish isn’t even our native tongue!” That it’s just the language that was forced upon my opressed and raped ancestors. Entonces, dime: What is supposed to be my language when I’m a native of California by birth, a native of Jalisco por mi madre y padre, and a Cuyteco by my indigenous ancestors?
In Mexico, me llaman pocha, gringa…que vengo del Norte. And in el Norte, they group me in with all other “brown” peoples with labels like Hispanic and Latino. But I prefer Chicana, it seems to fit me better – a woman stuck between two languages, two cultures, two personas to fit them both…trying to figure out exactly where she belongs.