La lengua de mi hogar by Caroline Rodriguez






Sabado, Domingo

One of my first memories is that simple melody, repeated over and over with clapping hands, my grandfather laughing as he bounced me on his knee. Over and over again, until those words were tattooed on my brain, as completely unforgettable as all las palabras ingles stuffed in before and since.

When I was a child, when my days started with cartoons and ended with the sunset, español y ingles bailaron de me lengua con facilidad. There was a clear difference; English was hard and solid, sentences built brick by brick with words as concrete as the ground I stood on. Spanish melted on my tongue like sugar; speaking Spanish was like speaking through honey, las palabras eran dulces y espesos en mi boca, melted together, one word almost indistinguishable from the next. My clumsy American mouth would stumble over accented a’s and rolled r’s, but the language would stay interspersed in my sentences just the same. This was only supported by the bilingual classes in my preschool, where rows and rows of Latino children would sit on brightly colored squares, learning to mix words like music.

Pasaste a mi lado

Con gran indiferencia

Tus ojos ni siquiera

Voltearon hacia me…

Y sin embargo sigues

Unida a me existencia

Y si vivo cien años

Cien años pienso en ti…

—Pedro Infante

The Spanish music my grandmother played was very much dated. The dusty old melodies still seemed to warble through phonographs, though she played them on CDs. They all blend together now—every so often, at someone’s house, at a restaurant, one will catch my ear and I’ll realize it still rests in my memory, buried under layers and layers of fast rap and loud rock. This was the beginning of the forgetting; beautiful poetry that once lulled me to sleep, abandoned as I grew older, went to a school full of gringos, quien no sabía, y no quería aprender. English had already loomed much larger in my life; I could get by on Spanish, but there was no question of my mother tongue. However, now it took up my entire being, shoving out Spanish from the little cracks and corners of my life.

¿Qué sabes tu de mi? No me hagas reir

Tu creías que eras imprescindible

Pero sin tu amor no voy a morirme, baby

¿Qué sabes tu de mi? No me hagas reir

Me verás con otro hombre a mi lado

Ya lo ves, traidor, voy a sustituirte…

A olvidar tu amor…


Soon Spanish just became another class in school. A class where I was singled out, without fail, every time a new teacher read out the roll call sheet. She (it was almost always a she) would look up, and smile conspiratorially, and I would sink down in my chair, ashamed of the way these words that were supposed to be foreign weighed so naturally on my tongue. During these years, even as I neglected the language, it created barriers within myself; I could no longer reach vital parts of my identity, guarded heavily by signs of Solo Español that my stubborn tongue would refuse to adhere to. I lost the beauty that tasted of honey, sweet and thick on my tongue. I was ashamed to speak Spanish around white people because it made me different, and I was ashamed to speak it to Latinos because I was worried all the time spent neglecting the language had robbed me of my ability to speak; or worse, I would speak it with that distinctive American drawl.  The only Spanish I would speak would be to sing along with my white friends to Shakira or other, more widely known “Spanglish” artists and even then I would make sure to pronounce the words as stiffly and disjointedly as they did. But the more I swallowed those words instead of letting them roll off my tongue, the less I could identify with la cultura. I embraced Taco Bell and Burrito King as authentic, even after I had tasted the smokiness of arrachera. I assimilated physically, straightening my hair, lightening it first to red, then blonder and blonder, getting rid of the dark, disobedient curls that had been passed down through generations. And I most certainly did not speak Spanish at home when I could help it, even as my family started using it with more and more frequency as we watched my grandmother’s memory slowly erase all the English she had learned. Even as I rejected the language, I saw it dying out in my grandparents, as their own bodies started to turn on them. It was only when they were gone that I would allow the sweetness to return.

Vamos Guatemala, la fiesta te espera

Llama a Nicaragua, El Salvador se cuela

Loqueando desde Cuba y el mundo se entera

Si tú eres Latino, saca tu bandera!

Gente de Zona y Marc Antony

As I got older, I learned to embrace the Latino side of my culture, rather than shy away from it. Going to a more diverse school definitely helped with this; suddenly, el chisme en el almuerzo se volvió bilingüe. I learned not only to embrace mi lengua, pero mi cultura también. I took pride in mi apellido, con su jumble de consonantes y vocales. I celebrate my culture as it is, from the pan dulce in the mornings to tamales late at night. I let my hair go wild and free some days, still learning to embrace the frizziness that won’t be brushed down. Mi iPod esta lleno de bachata y reggaeton, y rap y hip hop americano también. And although my tongue may stumble, it is slowly but surely finding its place en la lengua de mi gente; la lengua de mi hogar.

Caroline Rodriguez is a first year Visual & Media Arts major.