In Simon Ortiz's essay, "The Language We Know" Ortiz wrote about his
childhood as an Acoma Pueblo Indian during the 1950's. Ortiz wrote that through the
teachings from his parents and grandparents he did not forget his traditions and
language. During that period in time Native American children were sent off to school to
learn the English language and become "Americanized." Ortiz wrote, "it has occurred to
me that I learned English simply because I was forced to, as so many other Indian
children were," (30). In my own experience, I too felt pressured in learning the English
language; not so much by the government, but by my mother. I was a first-generation
American child born to a Salvadorian immigrant, whom Spanish is her native language.
Unlike Ortiz, my mother's culture was not instilled in me. My mother thought, if I was to
make it in America, I must be "Americanized."
She had no hopes for herself to become
"Americanized," to this day, twenty-six years later, she still cannot speak or understand
the English language.
While growing up in Los Angeles, California, Spanish was my first language until
I started elementary school. I learned English quickly and by the time I was about seven
or eight years old, and was able to read, I became my mother's translator. I read the
mail, and some times had to translate financial and legal terms. When we were at
doctor appointments, I had to translate the medical advice given to us. In the grocery
store, I had to translate ingredients, and cooking directions on the labels of food
packages. My experience as a young child helped me better understand the English
language, however, it brought on another problem. As I entered my teenage years, I
was forgetting my first language.
"Spanglish" is the mixing of Spanish using English terms instead of using the
term properly in Spanish. To many Hispanics this is considered a language in itself, like
"Black English." Today "Spanglish" is very common in Hispanic communities. In James
Baldwin's essay, "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me, What Is?" he wrote,
"people evolve a language in order to describe and thus control their circumstances or
in order not to be submerged by a reality that they cannot articulate" (21).
"Spanglish" was developed by Hispanics for the convenience of understanding an
English term. I feel I picked up "Spanglish" because I was not taught the proper
language of Spanish. My mother understood when I spoke "Spanglish" so therefore she
never corrected me when I threw in an English word in place of the Spanish one. As a
teenager, I had no interest in my mother's culture and spoke Spanish only when I had
to. I had become "Americanized," although my community was made up of eighty-five
percent Hispanics, many were also first-generation American and felt the same way I
Nevertheless, it was not until I left Los Angeles to join the military that I felt the
need to know my culture. It was the first time that I was away from home, and the first
time that I interacted with people from different backgrounds. I met many other
Hispanics and was fascinated by the diversity of the people and their culture. Little by
little, I learned about my culture and heritage. I took Spanish classes and read Spanish
literature in order to learn the proper form of the Spanish language. I also watch
Spanish news shows to keep up with current events in Latin America.
In conclusion, I feel I can relate to Simon Ortiz in his yearning to keep his
heritage alive, only, I learned later in life. Many Hispanics are losing their first language
by chopping it up through "Spanglish," which is not taught, but picked up like slang. As
more time passes on, more English words will be substituted for Spanish words, and
eventually the Spanish language will be lost to Americans of Hispanic descent.
However, it is not too late for my daughter, whom I hope to instill the language and
heritage of her grandmother. I will also teach her to be proud of her heritage, and
especially not to forget it.
Baldwin, James. "If Black English Isn't a Language, Then Tell Me What Is?" Reading
and Writing: The Keys to Knowledge. Ed. Laura Morales-Johnson and LeAnn