Speaking in Spanglish
by L. Vocem
First published in Azahares Literary Magazine
University of Arkansas, Fort Smith
I didn’t realize how bad my Spanish was until I took it in school and made a C minus. My teacher, Ms Smith had learned her Spanish in Madrid and said everything with a lot of Zetas. At home my Mami looked at me funny when I used some of the words, since she spoke, South American Caribbean Spanish not that lispy sounding thing they spoke in Spain. My teacher also corrected me when I translated average to averáje, saying the right word was promedio.
It bothered me that my family could not speak English right, Mami took us to Gualmar, instead of Walmart, or when we were sick my Mami used el vivaporu. Until one day I realized that it was really Vicks VapoRup.
Now even my Spanish was not good enough.
I already had an identity crisis, this was only making it worse. Truth be told, I just wanted to be a regular kid. But even more, I wanted to be one of the white kids. And the reality is that I’m a dark girl, with brown skin and black hair. When my parents spoke to me in Spanish, I responded to them in English. The only one I spoke Spanish to was Nana. And I could hardly understand her.
All this time, I thought I was an American Latina, that went to an American school and lived in a blue collar barrio that had blacks, latinos and white people intermixed. In school each group tended to gravitate to their own, but then there were the geeks. They didn’t care what color you were, what language you spoke as long as you were a gamer, or artsy, or a little weird.
My older sister when she attended school was rather popular. She hung out with the athletes and even tried for cheerleading but she didn’t make it. Some say, she wasn’t dark enough or white enough, just cafesito. She started going out with black boys from the football team and my Nana got really mad at her. Tenemos que blanquear la raza, we have to whiten the race, she screamed at her own daughter, my mom when she found out. I didn’t get it, Nana was not exactly very light herself.
It wasn’t until I turned 15 and wanted to take driver’s ed and needed my birth certificate to get a license that I realized that I had the curse. I was one of them. What I dreaded only happened to other people – it was actually me. I cried all night, hoping it would go away in the morning, but it did not. It was like having some disease, like HIV, which made you an untouchable person for life. But society did not want to help you find a cure because to them you were a monster, the leech that was destroying the country.
Yes, I’m an illegal alien. I said it. I’m a wetback. I cannot remember when we came in, I was too small. After I found out, I confronted Papi about it. He said that we came by bus and simply overstayed our visas. Jorge was born later on. He has papeles.
I had worked so hard in school to get scholarships and I was aiming at good schools. I was shattered. My school advisor noticed my grades going down and pulled me aside. In her office I cried and told her. She reminded me that most of the Latino students in school had no papers even when they say they did. “So why don’t you report me and them?” I asked her. She held my hand tight and said because she was there to educate and every child had a right to an education regardless.
When my sister graduated from high school she joined the presidential group DACA. My Papi didn’t like it. He argued that now they had a record of who we were, and now they knew where to get us and deport us. I told Papi, in solidarity with my sister that I would join too. “Nunca, Maribel!” My dad said, very angry, that he didn’t work this hard rompiendose la espalda, breaking his back for so many years, so we could piss it away just like that.
“We are illegals,” my sister screamed at my dad.
“¿Qué quieres hija?” What do you want, he said to my sister. “That we end up in a slum by the border, with no work, where multinationals dump battery chemicals in the water and cartels kill, kidnap people and turn girls like you into putas. Carajo, digo que no!”
I’ve never heard my Papi talk so blunt. I wanted to sneak behind his back in the next days and fill in the forms and join. But I was too chicken and I didn’t.
Lucia, got angry at me first, but then we did a cry together and forgave each other like good hermanas do.
All along, my younger brother, the one who is the citizen, the gringo, he didn’t care. All he cared about was fútbol. Not American football, but soccer. He dressed in Real Madrid jerseys, and he liked the vino tinto of Venezuela as his other color. That is where Nana and Mami were from. His Spanish sucked too, but Nana had been his baby sitter growing up and they talked in her super fast Spanish all the time.
My sister and her friends went to the State Capitol here in Georgia to demonstrate because the universities did not want them. People in the streets did not like them. White supremacist came over as well with signs that said, build the wall.
In the mean time I had to study for finals and the SAT so I could get in a good school.
“Cual es el punto,” What’s the point, Mami said in desperation. It really pissed me off. I thought she was supposed to be supportive, but she had given up. “Do you think they are going to let people like you and me in? No, coño.They need us, they want us, but only as long as we are cheap labor and they can keep that finger to squash us down. Me entiendes mija. When the jews were in Egypt, they didn’t like them. Somos los nuevos judios.“
I met a boy in school, Taylor. He is an anglo white kid, a little chubby like me and a Star Wars geek. We went to the prom together. I was Princess Leah, and he went as a Storm Trooper since he already had the complete uniform. People in school said we shouldn’t have done that, were too weird, that it didn’t go together, that he should have been Hans Solo or someone like that. But no. We were happy the way it was. We kissed a lot after the prom, even though we didn’t go to the after parties because we didn’t have any tuxedos or fancy night dresses. We didn’t care.
I applied to some universities and got accepted to some of them from out of state. But I could not get enough scholarships to pay for the tuition. Then an in-state school accepted me. I was so happy I called Taylor and told him.
I graduated and in the mean time got a job at a Mexican restaurant taking orders at the front. I practiced my Spanish real hard. This was not one of those places pretending to be a Mexican restaurant and selling you hard shell tacos and burritos. No, this place was the real thing, tortas, popusas, tacos de chivo,al pastor, cesos. The condiment counter had four different salsas, limes and a bowl filled with radishes. The place was packed with construction workers, landscapers, mechanics from all the dealers, painters, chiroqueadores, brick and stone contractors. One day Papi showed up with one of his crews. All their t-shirts had Papi’s name on the front and back. Papi did brick and stone work and had three crews. At one time he even hired Americans but they didn’t make it. The Georgia heat les quema el cerebro, fries their brain, he said. Or the job was too intense, like when mi Papi had a contract with a four story high building, one man would grab 6 loose bricks together with their bare hands and threw them up in the air to the second floor where another guy grabbed them and threw them to the third floor to another guy who passed them to a stacker. They did that all day. The gabachos didn’t last.
My friend, since he was not my boyfriend yet because we only had kissed and didn’t even mess around like my sister told me, got accepted to Georgia Tech. He was going to study computer science, but what he really wanted to do is write code and program games. We celebrated at his place and while I have never been into drinking and stuff like that, I drank a little, and, we went all the way. I was so embarrassed. He really didn’t know what to do either, so within a few seconds or minutes he… well, was done. He then told me that he had seen in porn and that he was supposed to have lasted a lot longer and be able to do all these different things. I gave him a kiss and we played video games.
My sister had been applying to a ton of schools as well and since her grades were not as good as mine it has been a lot harder for her. Yet she got accepted to my school. Oh my god, girl. We could go to school together, be in the same dorm, it was going to be great.
Papi was not too happy about this. “Yo las quiero mucho, hijas. ¿Pero cómo vamos a pagar por esto?” I love you so much, but how are we going to pay for all of this? We looked for every grant we could get, every penny we could shave off. It was still a lot of money, but Papi said that construction was starting to pick up and gracias a que nos odian, thanks that they hate us, so many workers had left the country. If they were going to build a wall it would be so people did not leave. So if he could get a fourth crew, and we could help him with paperwork and administrative he may be able to pull it off.
Then it came in the news. The State said that they were not allowed to be Sanctuary schools or anything like that. We would have to pay out of state tuition, which was tens of thousands more.
We had a little cry together when we gathered everything. Only one would be able to go to school. Only one would be able to pursue her dreams. The other one could work for Papi until things cleared up or we figured something else.
I felt really bad and cried all night. I was an illegal. If I ever got stopped driving, it would be the end. Yet, I was going to go to school, to one of the finest schools in the south. I could not let my sister down. I could not let Papi and Mami and Nana down. I could not let my small brother who didn’t care down.
I had to do this, even if some day they deported me.
To read this story in the original electronic version click here.