For Latinx families, love isn't lost in translation even if Spanish is the language barrier
- Many young
Latinxstruggle with not being able to speak Spanishfluently to family or friends.
- The number of Latinx people who spoke Spanish at home decreased from 78 to 73% in 2015.
- Mendez is still not fluent and says he missed out on a lot of familial relationships because of it.
My great-grandmother passed away in early June. She was the matriarch of the family and why her 13 children were able to come to the United States from the
The family expanded, and soon she had 37 grandchildren and 34 great-grandchildren, with two more to be born.
At her funeral, at least 300 people cycled in and out of the funeral home as they paid their respect to a woman who had such an impact on her community. I went and comforted my family as they cried, and as people approached the casket, I tried to remember memories I had.
I couldn't think of any.
Before her passing, the family matriarch endured a long battle with Alzheimer's disease and had two strokes. This left her bed-ridden for most of my life. When I was a teenager, she spoke but very infrequently.
As I grew older, she became less and less vocal before not speaking at all.
Growing up in New York, I spoke English, and my parents tried to teach me Spanish by talking to me in the
But I was never fluent enough to hold conversations long enough to connect with a large portion of my family members - my great-grandmother being one of them.
That doesn't mean I love or respect them any less; it's an observation I've made the older I've gotten, and it became hard to ignore at my great-grandmother's funeral.
My feelings about missing out on familial relationships because I don't speak Spanish well are common among many people within the Latinx community and people who speak a different language from the rest of their families.
According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center in 2015, the number of Latinx people who speak Spanish at home sat at 73% percent, a decrease from the 78% percent reported in 2006.
This, compounded with constantly being asked when I'm going to learn Spanish, along with not feeling "Latinx" enough.
Before a shower one night, I decided to listen to an episode of NPR's podcast, "Code Switch" that featured The Kid Mero, one-half of the comedy collective on Showtime's "Desus & Mero," who spoke about being Dominican-American, and so much of what he said resonated with me.
In a story about speaking to his kids in Spanish at home, Mero spoke about how he laughed at his German-American, non-Spanish-speaking wife attempting to teach their kids Spanish and how it might have turned her off from speaking Spanish.
It resonated with me because he spoke about how Dominican people speak Spanish - very fast and in a particular dialect - and how he felt formal Spanish might not give him the tools to communicate with family members.
I related to both sides of this story - Mero and his wife.
Many young Latinx struggle with not being fluent in Spanish
One reason I don't speak Spanish is because of trauma - for lack of a better word.
Being made fun of for speaking bad Spanish sticks with you, and the anxiety of talking to native speakers is crippling. I don't want to pronounce things wrong, I don't know what to say, and my brain goes into overdrive and completely shuts off.
While it might not be the same, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez also spoke about not being fluent in Spanish and needing "public practice" to improve after a 2019 interview with the Spanish-language network Univision. It was heartening to see her openly admit struggles with her Spanish, something that I also sought validation for not speaking well.
I took Spanish for many years and have learned to read and write it without much difficulty. I've tried brushing up on it with apps like Duolingo, but it's not much of a challenge since I know most of what they're teaching on the app.
It also doesn't have a setting for "Dominican Spanish," making it feel useless to learn this way.
I'm slowly coming to terms with my stance on learning the language as being, 'I'll teach myself Spanish when I'm ready, but if I don't, that's okay too.'
In an essay for HipLatina, Journalist Samantha Leal wrote that her lack of fluency in Spanish doesn't mean she lacks any
"Spanish is an inherent part of the Latino identity. As it should be," Leal wrote. "You can identify with your ancestors and your family, you can eat your tia's tamales, and dance and sing to the song that reminds you of home even if you know what two-thirds of the words mean."
She continued, "You can be proud of your cultura and what that means to you. It doesn't make you any less than."
English or Spanish, language isn't a barrier to Latinx family loveMore than 100 people gathered at my great-grandmother's gravesite for her burial.
She rests next to her sister on a hill overlooking a busy main road. Before the priest began the service, a funeral attendant began passing out flowers in various colors to be placed on the casket.
My great-grandmother's favorite color was purple. She wore it in many of the pictures I saw of her throughout the years and it's a color that always reminds me of her.
As the flowers were being passed out, I turned my head to the left and the right of me, taking short glances at the red faces of my family around me, overcome with emotion. I knew if I looked at them cry, I would become a sobbing mess. It was our final goodbye.
I began to rack my brain, trying to think of a fond memory I've had with her. As I struggled to think, I began to feel selfish for having these emotions of grief for a person I barely spoke to.
The lump in my throat grew larger, and tears began to flow as I tried to hold back my tears. A voice in my head kept telling me not to cry as I watched my family members sniffle and weep. "You didn't get to know her that well. It's not your place to cry," I kept telling myself.
I held my mom's hand and squeezed it tight as I watched my younger cousins try and hold it together. I wondered what our connection with her would have been like if we had gotten the opportunity to connect when I was older.
I told myself that I felt she might have tried her best to connect with me and all of her great-grandchildren who don't speak Spanish. Although there is a language barrier that I see today with many of my aunts and uncles, I remembered that many of my family members still get excited to see me and try their best to connect and chat as much as they can.
At that moment, the attendant handed me a purple flower. It was a small, seemingly insignificant, yet comforting gesture. It was a simple reminder that love transcends language.
I took it as a sign from my great-grandmother as if she was saying, "Don't worry, we might not have understood each other, but I love you."
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