by Erika Delgado
According to my mother there was a time in my life that I didn’t speak Spanish like a gringa mensa, when I was 5. Apparently back then I was really cute, never said no, and could speak Spanish so fluently that my whole family in Mexico was startled by my existence. I don’t remember this ever being a reality. I remember always loving novellas, Spanish pop, Sábado Gigante, and constantly being afraid of speaking in Spanish. I knew that the moment I opened my mouth everyone would look at me with a judgmental stare, and either let me be or correct me. Then they would go off being chismosos and telling everyone in town how la hija of Maria Del Carmen was growing up to be a spoiled American. Maybe this was just an early sign of my social anxiety I only became aware of at 18, or maybe this was reality.
This all got to me bad at 9, that whole summer in Mexico was spent being made fun of by my male cousins. I was worried to speak. I was worried I was going to say the wrong thing again. I tried to just speak English, but this just brought out the “You’re in Mexico, speak Spanish.” So then I decided to not speak at all.
My mother became my voice box, I was whispered all the things I wanted and needed to say to her in English, so she could speak them back out in Spanish. It was not as efficient as I thought it would be, but it kept my family farther away from me and kept my feelings unharmed. At least that’s what I hoped it would do. See I have always had a problem involving me anxiously grabbing energy and letting all the words that popped in my head bounce out of my mouth. I couldn’t stay silent for too long, because it has never been my nature. I speak what I want to speak and then frantically run back into my mind.
A lot of the time, I just didn’t want to be alone. I was sick of feeling this obviously redundant separation in language. I just wanted to talk about Pokemon and Digimon. I wanted to learn more about my family. I wanted to enjoy my time. So I went to the local comic book store, next to a church that holds a wooden carving of Jesus that was found as a miracle in the woods (that no longer exist). I went to that local comic book store, next to that historical church, and I bought all the Archie comics in stock. I took those comics with me everywhere. I sat there with my head trapped in Archie’s life, as everyone in my family screamed about money and God. That was my productive way to strengthen my Spanish skills and not talk to anyone. It worked. There were moments, that these comics strengthened my almost non-existent relationship with my cousins. They actually wanted to read along with me.
The ridicule didn’t end that easily. It ended after one of my uncles saw my cousins making fun of how I spoke. He saw this and said “Next time you go to the United States, you can’t speak Spanish, you can only speak English.” This is what shut them up forever. It was funny to me though, my whole life I had been ridiculed for how I spoke. In English, not only did I have a lisp, but at times Spanish pronunciation popped out my mouth. I knew more languages that half people in my classes and my cousins, and yet I was the one they called dumb.