One of the things I’ve always appreciated about Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is how relatable she could be sometimes. On Thursday, the Congresswoman tweeted about doing an interview in Spanish about the Green New Deal on Univision Nueva York. She kept it real about how even though she grew up speaking Spanish, she still finds herself struggling when it comes to fluency.
“I’m really proud of this interview!” She tweeted. “Growing up, Spanish was my first language — but like many 1st generation Latinx Americans, I have to continuously work at it & improve. It’s not perfect, but the only way we improve our language skills is through public practice. #Palante.”
I’m really proud of this interview!
Growing up, Spanish was my first language – but like many 1st generation Latinx Americans, I have to continuously work at it & improve.
— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) September 6, 2019
I have to admit, that I really appreciated that tweet. Being a first-generation Latina myself, I also grew up with Spanish being my first language. My abuelos lived one floor above my parents and I, so I was constantly exposed to the language. But once they moved out to Florida and I started going to school, I started speaking it less and eventually got comfortable communicating with my parents in English.
I still speak Spanish today but in terms of fluency, I’ll say I’m 80 to 85 percent fluent because I can converse about pretty much anything — even politics. My biggest issue with speaking Spanish is I struggle with speaking in the right tense or using the right articles. My vocabulary, for the most part, isn’t too bad but I do occasionally struggle to remember certain words. The struggle is real.
Like many non-fluent Spanish speaking Latinas, I definitely experienced a fair amount of shaming growing up by the Latinx community. My peers would often tell me I wasn’t “Latina enough” because I didn’t speak Spanish fluently and I didn’t have an accent. This impacted me a lot in terms of identity and feeling Latina enough but eventually, I learned that it doesn’t matter how much Spanish you speak or don’t speak — none of that determines your Latiniad! Now I have zero problems clapping by at the ignorant haters.
At one point I was even taking tutoring lessons to improve my Spanish speaking skills. That’s how much I wanted to speak fluently. This is a lot more common among first-generation and of course, second and third-generation Latinxs, than folks like to admit.
According to Pew Research, the vast majority of U.S. Latinos speak Spanish to their children. However the percentage of Latino parents who ensure that their children speak Spanish declines as their immigrant connections become more distant. A 2016 Pew Research study reveals that while the majority of Latinos believe Spanish is an important part of Latino culture and identity, with 95% of Latinos saying it is important for future generations to speak Spanish, most Latino adults say it’s not necessary to speak Spanish to be considered Latino. I couldn’t agree more.
While I feel it is important for the Latinx community to try to preserve the Spanish language as much as possible, I agree that it doesn’t make you less or more Latinx. Are there benefits to speaking two languages? Absolutely. It’s especially beneficial to speak Spanish specifically, which is the second most spoken language in this country. I agree with AOC on the importance of making an effort to continuously work at speaking and improving Spanish. But at the end of the day how much or little Spanish you speak doesn’t change your ethnicity — regardless of what the haters might say. Never forget that!