I've always been proud of my Mexican American heritage. Very proud. I'm much closer to the Mexican American side of the family than I am to my Anglo relatives; therefore I identify as Latina. But I'm never Latina enough, it seems. I know this is an insecurity within myself that has been nurtured over the years by the many times that people see only my pale skin, not the fiery Mexicana-americana underneath. And it's a nerve that I hit myself, when I clumsily converse in Spanish.
Although it was my first language, I have never been fluent. Nunca. I want more than ever to become fluent now, with a son to teach to speak. I want his first words to be bilingual, like mine were. Yet for him I want more. I want him to grow up speaking both languages. And for myself, quiero ser bilingüe. It's important to me to help my three-fourths Anglo son learn about his culture, his familia, his roots. And that involves me learning to speak better Spanish.
We're on a severely limited budget, so I'm doing what I can by checking out bilingual books from the library and reading. I've found that when I read Spanish it touches some distant memory inside me, sparking a moment of recognition, as if my brain already contains the knowledge but needs me to learn the pathway to fluency.
I wince when I speak aloud, though. I hear my terrible accent and feel like a sham, not Latina enough. But I find myself whispering to my son in Spanish without thinking about it. "Shhh, mi hijo. No llores." I sing to him the few songs I know in Spanish, a lullaby and La Cucaracha.
There's many, many versions of the last verse of La Cucaracha. I think most people have heard of the one that ends "marijuana por fumar". Interestingly enough, one version pokes fun at American Anglos who can't deal with the rising tide of bilingual culture:
El tonto Anglo, el tonto Anglo
ya no puede platicar,
porque no tiene, porque le falta,
español que hablar.
I feel like that song was written about me. The silly white girl who can't make conversation because I don't have any Spanish to speak.
I can at least take comfort in knowing that mi hijo will grow up eating tortillas, caldos, enchiladas, menudo and other home-cooked ethnic comfort foods. Por la gracia de Dios I will feed him like a Latina mamí.