My language makes me who I am


Graphic by Anjel-Ali Ormond

Leslie is bilingual, speaking both Spanish and English.

 English wasn’t my first language. With both of my parents being Latinos, I was exposed to a whole different culture. When I started school, my palate only increased. After living all of my life surrounded by the Spanish language, going to school exposed me to a different culture and language.

  The new language was foreign; my mom told me that during my first week, I kept trying to speak to my teachers in Spanish, but slowly I was able to speak English and understand it. However, when I was at school I would catch people looking at me funny. I simply ignored it at first, but I noticed that it didn’t stop there. Whenever I would go out with my family I would feel the same weird stares coming from the people nearby. The judgmental looks continued both in and outside of school, and the discomfort that they gave me only increased.

   Soon the discomfort turned into something else: shame. As a ten-year-old, not once had I felt ashamed of who I was and what I could do, but now I started to refuse to speak Spanish outside my home, and no longer did I ask my mom to teach me to read and write in Spanish.

  For two years I rarely spoke Spanish. It even got to a point where I struggled to speak some words or recall how to spell them. 

And then sometime during the winter break of sixth grade, my father and I were going into Walmart when we saw a man walking towards us. He looked frantic and told my father that he was from Mexico and had come here on vacation. It had been an hour since he had lost his wallet, which contained his visa, and he hadn’t been able to ask for help because of his lack of English. The man asked my father if I could help him. Walking into Walmart I headed to the customer service desk, and I asked about a missing wallet. Quickly that worker brought out a wallet, and after confirming the man wasn’t lying, they handed it to him. The man turned to me and thanked me earnestly, and then he was on his way. .

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 Though it had been a simple request I felt proud and grateful because thanks to being bilingual I was able to help someone. 

  In the days that followed slowly but surely, I started to speak Spanish more and more. Soon the weird judgmental looks that had once felt uncomfortable no longer made me feel ashamed. Instead, the looks turned into surprise and admiration. I discovered that I could listen to twice as much music as before, and read twice as many books. I realized that being able to speak another language was not shameful, and now that I look back I realize that I wasn’t entirely ashamed of my linguistic advantage. I think I was mainly ashamed of being different than that majority, but now I see that my being different is what makes me stand out as who I am.