Yes, I’m Hispanic; half, actually. And no, I can’t speak Spanish. But before you ask “why not?”, first ask yourself “is it any of my business”? And if it is, what is the nature of that business? What is the degree of its importance?

That’s not to say I won’t try my best to communicate with someone who genuinely can’t speak a word of English and needs help, or point you in the direction of someone who can. But for those who use my inability to speak Spanish as a starting point to judge or berate my status as a mixed Latina, I refuse to meet you anywhere other than the other side of an exit.

I could go into how, for reasons I don’t 100% understand, my mom never spoke Spanish at home. I could explain how everyone on the Puerto Rican side of my family spoke English most of the time, and never felt it was necessary to make us learn Spanish. I could even show you a strangely accurate example of my Spanish-speaking abilities so that you understand just how limited I am with the language.

But I don’t owe you an explanation.

That’s not to be misinterpreted as impolite, but as a rebuttal to the shamelessly rude questions and comments, I’ve received over the years from people both inside and outside of the Spanish-speaking community. While not all inquiries have been rude, most questions and comments have crossed the boundary between curiosity and disrespect. Once informed that I don’t speak fluently, I’ve had complete strangers mockingly ask “How can you not speak Spanish?” with a couple going as far as to tell me that I’m not “really” Latina because I can’t (or won’t) speak on command.

Truthfully, not being able to hold a conversation in Spanish, or relate to most Spanish-speaking media, has made me feel left out on occasion. And yes, I’d be open to learning the language on my own schedule. However, not being a Spanish speaker doesn’t make me any “less” than the next person. Being expected to speak Spanish by default is yet another piece of baggage I carry on my back as a Latina in the US as if the language is something that can be compared to height or eye color; it’s time to unpack that brand of ignorance.

As a Spanish speaker, if you need help with directions or something practical, I’ll do my best to meet you halfway. Most people don’t mean any harm when they give their two cents, but that doesn’t take away from the impact of repeated disrespect from those who make unmindful statements about something that is not of their concern. I am not responsible for accepting that impact with self-made apologies and excuses for something that’s not a character flaw. It just is. I don’t speak Spanish, but I am Latina, and there are no words in either English or Spanish that can invalidate that.

Photo by Jacob Mejicanos 

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