Two Tongues

As a bilingual speaker, language plays a big part in my life. It represents me as a person from two separate countries, meeting at an invisible line and separated by the border of language. In the essay “Borderlands/La Frontera” by Glona Anzalúna she writes “Ethnic identity is twin skin to linguistic identity.” For me personally I find the quote to be totally true. My ethnicity is Mexican and it does reflect on my identity of a Spanish speaker. Yet I also know how to speak English which creates a second persona.

My parents brought me over to the United States from Mexico when I was nine months old. They came here knowing close to zero English, thus making Spanish the first language I learned to speak.

Di: Perro”


“No, Pe-rr-o”

My parents would ask me to pronounce words that desired the famous Spanish “rolling r”, like “carro” and “padre”, and being  2 years old,speaking was something new. My parents brought me over to the United States from Mexico when I was nine months old. Learning a language that was full of accents, “ñ”, double r’s and l’s was tough. My parents taught me how to speak, read and write Spanish. After a while it began to come to me naturally. It was all I knew how to speak. Spanish was the only thing I needed to know how to speak.

When my parents decided to enroll me in preschool I kind of looked forward to it. I remember the first few months of preschool as being really tough because I lacked English speaking skills. The only words I knew were “no” and “yes”. I had trouble communicating with the teachers and other students at first. 

“Me usar el baño”

“What? Speak up.”

“Tengo que usar el baño!” 

“Hey! You, come here and tell me what he wants”

The classroom was always full of children who were English experts compared to me. Not being able to speak English in the class room made me the outsider. With the help of my teachers I began to speak English and use it to communicate with the other kids. My difference began to fade away slowly as the year progressed. I remember how I would use stencils that came in all sorts of shapes; insects, animals, and cars. I would choose one and make a booklet filled with stencil drawings. Then my teacher would help me write out my name under every picture I made; to show that I was the artist yet learning to spell at the same time. 

From then on things were a lot easier. Being with people who only spoke english for 7 hours, 5 days a week really helped shape the way I spoke English for the rest of my life. It was a matter of learning English or continuing to use hand gestures like an advanced gorilla for the rest of my life. 

Being a bilingual has forced me to switch from Spanish to English and then back again depending on my situation. My parents’ little knowledge on the English language makes me their main translator. In elementary school, whenever I mentioned that I spoke Spanish. People would ask me things like: “Are you fluent?” or “Do you speak Spanish at home?”. Being bilingual sort of gave me a title. I didn’t understand why my friends were so amazed when they heard me speaking Spanish with my parents. I guess they saw it as a gift. In my opinion it was just who I was; I didn’t choose to be bilingual. Some people take courses or get a tutor to learn another language. I just happened to have Mexican parents who helped me learn Spanish before English in a country where English was the dominant language. 

I don’t speak much unless I’m close to the person I’m speaking to. The amount of words I say also depend on what language I’m speaking to them in. I speak English with my siblings and cousins who all grew up here and learned English as a second language too. English represents my “Americanized” persona; the part of me that feels like English is my first and only  language. This probably comes from the fact that I have probably spoken more English than Spanish in my life, because of my environment. I usually only speak Spanish whenever I’m talking to a relative or my parents.  My parents also never forget to remind me of my ethnicity and encourage me to speak to my brothers in Spanish so I won’t lose touch with the language. I don’t talk to my brothers in Spanish because they were born here and had me to teach them english before they started school. I see that as an advantage and that creates a difference between us. When I do speak Spanish with someone, especially with someone who doesn’t understand it quite well, I tend to feel a sense of pride. I take into account that it was my first language and it represents my Mexican nationality. 

I do agree that my linguistic identity is a representation of my ethnic identity. I am what I speak. In “If Black English Isn’t a Language, Then Tell Me. What Is?” by James Baldwin he speaks about the relationship between language and identity, saying “It is the most vivid and crucial key to identity”. Knowing how to speak two separate languages gives me two different identities. Using spanish at home and the houses of my relatives I am more formal,using words like “usted” instead of “tú” and “mande” instead of “que”. Speaking with people who are fluent makes it seem more normal and that makes me speak more. This is my identity as the polite Spanish speaking, culture proud Mexican. The part of me that is more seclusive around non-hispanic people.  Anywhere else I use my other identity, the Americanized English Speaker. I grew up learning English and using it most of my life because everyone around me spoke English. Learning English as a second language made me into a part of the American society, where it is useful to know to speak the common tongue.