Sunday, January 23, 2011

English As A Second Language

I didn't learn to speak English until I was 5 years old.  That's right, up until my Kindergarten years I spoke only my native language, Español.  Hearing me speak, you wouldn't know this.  I don't speak with an accent and my pronunciation is spot on.  My features aren't an indication of my heritage.  Unless I tell you, you wouldn't know I was of Hispanic descent.  As a matter of fact, when I do mention it, people are surprised. 

That bothers me.  I grew up with my parents and family speaking nothing but Spanish to me and we celebrated all Mexican holidays.  I listened to Mexican music and watched nothing but Spanish TV.  All things American were foreign to me, even though I lived in the USA.  My parents raised me as they were raised, and figured I'd learn through experience in America.  You would think that would make me as paisa as they come! 

Only for a bit.  When I finally entered this brand new school for half day Kindergarten, I realized how paisa I was.  In school, we had to sit and pay attention and that was real hard considering I had no idea what anyone was saying!  I remember having no idea who Santa was and wondering why people sang a song to the flag (yes, it was the national anthem). 

I got over this real quick.  Being the social butterfly I am, I talked to everyone (whether they knew what I was saying or not) and I got to go to my special class.  I know a lot of people may say that it was wrong of my parents to not teach me any English, but in reality, I learned the language quite easily.  By the time I joined first grade, I was translating in class for the students that didn't know English, to help the teacher out. 

Growing up in California, I think people expect you to be Mexican, due to the close proximity to Mexico.  Over here in Pennsylvania, it's a surprise that a Mexican lives here.  I must have adapted well.  I love to see the look of surprise on people's faces, but that's not why I tell them.  Teaching others of my culture helps bring about tolerance, and everyone should help erase the hate.

So while my family celebrates Christmas with Santa and eats macaroni and cheese, they know that Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day and display both our Mexican & American flag with pride.  I do have little tendencies that "call out" the Mexican-ness in me.  Piss me off and see how Mexican I become!