- Damaris Chanza
The Struggles of the Lovely Spanish Language
Like English, Spanish is complex, beautiful, and intricate, but people tend to confuse the language for representing an entire culture.
Hispanic Heritage Month reminds us to celebrate Hispanic food, music, achievements, representation, and culture. Sometimes it can be easy to forget to celebrate the language that unites all those things – Spanish.
Language amongst Hispanics is a finicky thing. Even before getting into the discussions between Spanish and English or language vs. culture, Hispanic people have difficulty dictating what to call themselves.
Contrary to what people might think, Spanish people are not Hispanic. Spanish people originate from Spain. Hispanic describes a person who derives or descends from a Spanish-speaking country. Latino or Latina refers to someone descendant from Latin America. The relatively new term Latinx is a gender-neutral term with the same meaning as its gendered counterparts. Afro-Latino describes Latinx people who are also have African descent. Although all these words have specific meanings, they are constantly interchanged based on preference. I prefer the term Hispanic because it is the one I most identify with.
Labeling ourselves is the least of our language troubles, considering that most Hispanic people are bilingual. Hispanics make up a large portion of American immigrants, and part of immigrating means learning to speak, read, and write in English, albeit to varying degrees. Many Hispanics are distinguishable based on their recognizable accent. Although people take years going to school and learn online, their pronunciation doesn't always improve much, and their grammar tends to remain broken. Despite the advantages of being bilingual and the constant practice necessary, speaking and thinking in Spanish can be more manageable. The continuous internal translation is exhausting regardless of which language you prefer to think in.
As a first-generation American from immigrant parents who arrived as children, the central conflict I notice is the one between language and culture. The way language affects culture inside and outside of the Hispanic community is confusing. Because Hispanic Americans speak varying degrees of English and Spanish, known colloquially as Spanglish, it can feel like they're straying away from their roots. Connecting older generations who heavily identify with their native country can be difficult when different cultures mix. Assimilating can feel like forgetting your roots, and refusing to assimilate can feel like missing out. The conflict between language and culture creates generational divides that rift families.
Language and culture are not equivalent: language is an aspect of culture. Hispanic people struggle with language in so many facets that confusing it with culture as if they were interchangeable is unacceptable, whether within or outside of the Hispanic community. There may be an internal struggle with translation and an external battle with grammar and syntax, but Spanish is still worth knowing.
It's worth hearing the beautiful song-like language dance through your ears. It's worth the personal and professional advantages of knowing a language most people speak. Understanding, speaking, reading, and writing Spanish opens up the world of books, movies, music, and more in a way unlike ever before.