“More importantly than bilingual in my mind is bicultural.”
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Transcript for Neither Mexican Nor American
I didn’t know how to speak English. I was only a Spanish speaker up until the point that I was 6 years old in first grade. So I, I, I, remember, uh, a neighbor friend was going to take me, like literally, take my hand, walk me to my first grade classroom, and then hand me off to the teacher who was not a Spanish speaker.
I wanted to go to school, but I had no idea that I was going to be learning a new language or that I was supposed to be scared about that. It wasn’t scary to me at all until years later when I realized, “Wow, I did not know how to speak the language that everyone else spoke.” so didn’t know to be scared.
Well my parents, um, are from Mexico, both, they’re both born in Mexico, and they were both extremely hard working when I was a kid. I just remember my parents always were doing something. They never ever were sitting down to watch tv. If my dad wasn’t working a late, uh, shift, um, you know he, my mom she worked, um, as a seamstress, and she would get home and hurry up and cook, uh, food for us, and then she would cook something for my dad when he got home and, um, they both, um, came here before I was born. Uh, my dad was actually able to immigrate here legally on a work visa which I think was really unusual, and is really unusual. Um, he was a welder, and so he had a special skill and that, that is one of the ways in which you can legally come to the US.
I remember asking my sister what words meant, and I remember specifically not wanting to sound differently from the other kids so I was very concerned and aware of any type of accent that came across, and I remember hearing my parents sometimes would says words with an accent um, and sometimes we would repeat them with the same accent that they had, and then my friends were like, “What, why do you say it that way?” because we didn’t have any other accent in any other words, just certain words that we had learned from my parents. So, um, there were a few words. So there was a few times, and those memories stick out for me as, as being um, kinda funny now, but I remember being sorta self-conscious as a kid about saying things correctly and being able to spell things. Even at that young age, all I wanted was just to be like the other kids just not really be different.
By third grade I was getting straight a’s, and was you know being ‘Student of the Week’, and that kind of thing, and, and as an adult I realize how incredible that is, but as a kid you really don’t know any better so you just go with it, go with it, and go learn and do your thing and it’s not, no one tells you, you know, you don’t really know that that’s amazing that you did that, but kids are just, they absorb languages, just and that way, and I thought it was also interesting that my parents didn’t know English, that while they were learning it, and so I felt special that I was able to speak, and learn, and write in a language, and my parents were impressed by that.
All of us went to Mexico. We had, we had a house, we have a house down there, and um, it was a huge, huge culture shock for me at the age of 15 when the world sort of revolves around you to go to this other country where you been identified as. I identified as Mexican my whole life because my parents are Mexican and because I looked Mexican. So I was always like a Mexican, you know, and I go down there and people were like, “You’re not Mexican. You’re not from here. You’re… How can you say, like, you didn’t, you weren’t born here. You, your Spanish is, ehhh.”
And I was like, wow, I’m neither Mexican, nor am I American. So, it was just interesting for me at that point to realize that I was lucky to be part of both and really not to actually be either fully. So I was sorta on the outside, but it was a great perspective because, um, you got to see the two extremes of both cultures. Both cultures have certain, uh, nuances that I think are strange or great, and as, as an outsider you get to see both, and you get to say, “Well you know there is a medium kind of ground,” or maybe, um, you know I like the way that this culture does this, and I like culture…
You can kinda pick and choose and look at things from a, a perspective that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t exposed to both. So, more importantly than bilingual, in my mind is bicultural, the idea that you are open to, um, seeing the way something is done, and not saying, “Well that’s wrong to do it that way, and, and this is the right way. These people are corrupt, and these people are being ethical.”
So the concept of ethics, corruption, wrong, and right are so gray when you are part of two cultures because they don’t always agree. They nev… a lot of times they don’t agree, and being able to truly believe that neither is right or wrong is a hard thing to get to, and I saw that with some of my classmates later on because they had only ever seen one way, and they, you know, your parents teach you right from wrong, but that’s within the culture that you grow up in so it’s very biased.