En Español: Finding strength in my Spanish-speaking heritage

Samaria Parada has come to be proud of being bilingual and Salvadorian. — photo courtesy of Samaria Parada.

Nací en Los Ángeles, California en 1996. Mi familia y yo nos mudamos a Iowa cuando tenía 3.5 años y me crié en la pequeña ciudad de Osceola. La población de la ciudad era de aproximadamente 5.000 personas, la mayoría de las cuales eran blancas. De niña, nunca estuve expuesta a la diversidad racial, con excepción de la pequeña cantidad de latinx allí. Mi padre inmigró de El Salvador a Los Ángeles cuando tenía 9 años, y mi mamá en sus veinte años debido a la guerra civil en El Salvador. El español era la única forma en que podíamos comunicarnos, ya que Mamá no hablaba inglés.

Empecé a aprender inglés en kindergarten. Me pusieron en ELL, el programa de Aprendices del Idioma Inglés, y un asistente entraba a mi clase todos los días, a ponerme a un costado para ayudarme con los materiales que luché por entender. Quería negarme a aprender inglés, pero la respuesta era un “solo puedes hablar inglés” casi ladrado. En ese momento, yo no sabía que eso no era una cosa apropiada para decirle a una niña de 5 años. Entiendo que el inglés es necesario porque es el idioma principal en los Estados Unidos, pero eso no significa que los niños deban ser despojados de su lengua materna. Tenía miedo; no tuve opción, así que me asimilé.

A medida que pasaron los años, comencé a hablar bien el inglés. En casa, tuve conversaciones con mi hermano y papá en inglés, pero mi mamá nos gritaba que habláramos en español. Porque mi madre no podía hablar inglés, tuve que traducir para ella dondequiera que fuimos. Me sorprendió cómo la gente asumía que ella hablaba inglés debido al color claro de su piel. No podía hablar español en voz alta con ella en público sin sentir que me miraban fijamente. Esas miradas me hicieron sentir que no se me permitía hablar un idioma que no fuera el inglés. Mi mamá siempre me decía que nunca debía sentirme menos, sino siempre más, porque yo puedo hablar dos idiomas.

No fue hasta que empecé la universidad en la Universidad de Iowa, que me di cuenta de que no tenía nada que temer ni esconder, sino que debería estar orgullosa de quién soy. Ser parte de la hermandad latina, Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, Inc., en el campus me ha dado una comunidad de hermanas con las que puedo conectarme e identificarme.

Sin embargo, asistir a una institución predominantemente blanca me ha hecho más consciente de lo ignorante que puede ser la gente. A menudo me preguntan: “¿De dónde eres?,” como si mi nombre fuera raro, como si significara que no soy de los Estados Unidos. También me han etiquetado como “mexicana,” como si fuera el único país latinoamericano que existe.

Constantemente me enfrento a microagresiones y he aprendido a superar mi miedo de estar en silencio cuando me enfrento a ellos. No dejo caer mi guardia cuando me niego a dejar que la gente asuma nada, es una oportunidad para educarlos. Ahora, cuando hablo español, abrazo el idioma nativo de mis antepasados. Abrazo la sangre salvadoreña que corre por mis venas. Mi corazón se siente lleno cada vez que me comunico con mi gente en español.

Seguiré hablando el hermoso español salvadoreño que conozco donde quiera que voy, porque soy una latina orgullosa. Me niego a dejar que la gente ignorante me diga lo contrario.

Spanish-speaking heritage

Written and translated by Samaria Parada

I was born in Los Angeles, California in 1996. My family and I moved to Iowa when I was 3.5 years old, and I was raised in the small town of Osceola. The town’s population was approximately 5,000 people, the majority of whom were white. Growing up, I was never exposed to racial diversity, other than the small amount of Latinx there. My dad immigrated from El Salvador to Los Angeles when he was 9 years old, and my mom in her twenties due to the civil war in El Salvador. Spanish was the only way we could all communicate, since Mom did not speak English.

I began to learn English in kindergarten. I was put in ELL, the English Language Learners program, and an assistant came into my class every day to pull me aside to help me with the materials I struggled to grasp. I wanted to refuse to learn English, but “you can only speak English” was the answer that was lashed back at me. At the time, I did not know that that was not an appropriate thing to tell a 5-year-old. I understand that English was required because it is the main language in the U.S., but that does not mean children must be stripped away from their native tongue. I was afraid; I did not have a choice, so I assimilated.

As the years passed, I began to speak English well. At home, I had conversations with my brother and dad in English, but my mom would yell at us to speak in Spanish. Because my mom could not speak English, I had to translate for her everywhere we went. I was amazed by how people would assume she spoke English because of her light features. I could not speak Spanish aloud with her in public without getting stared at. Those eyes made me feel as though I was not allowed to speak a language that was not English. My mom always told me that I should never feel less, but always more, because I was able to speak two languages.

It was not until I started college at the University of Iowa that I came to realize I have nothing to fear or hide, but rather that I should be proud of who I am. Being part of the Latina-based sorority, Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, Inc., on campus has given me a community of sisters I can connect and identify with.

However, attending a predominantly white institution has made me more aware of how ignorant people can be. I am often asked, “Where are you from?,” as though my name is rare, meaning I am not from the U.S. I have also been referred to as a “Mexican,” as if it is the only Latin American country that exists.

I constantly face microaggressions and have learned to overcome my fear of being silent when facing them. I do not let my guard down and I refuse to let people assume anything, because I have an opportunity to educate them. Now when I speak Spanish, I embrace the native language of my ancestors. I embrace the Salvadoran blood that runs through my veins. My heart feels full every time I am able to communicate with my people in Spanish. I will continue to speak the beautiful Salvadoran Spanish I know everywhere I go, and be a proud Latina. I refuse to let ignorant people tell me otherwise.

Samaria Parada is a senior at the University of Iowa, where she studies enterprise leadership with a minor in Spanish and Latinx studies. This article was originally published in Little Village issue 227.

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