This piece was originally published on my Medium site in October 2017. It has been edited and updated to reflect today.
I don’t speak Spanish.
For many of my online community, whom I don’t know irl (in real life), it comes as a shock that I don’t speak Spanish fluently, and it’s pretty embarrassing for me. I can read it enough to get by, and I can understand Tex-Mex conversations, but forming a sentence and connecting through colloquialism is more difficult. While in Puerto Rico, I struggled even communicating basic things that left me frustrated and sad.
It is a common occurrence for many people my age, of similar background, who identify as people of color but don’t speak the language of our elders or ancestors. In my case, this erasure was a method of preservation and survival.
As recent ago as the 1950s, Mexican-American children in South Texas were not only segregated from White schools, but in 1954 when the US Supreme Court outlawed school segregation, children were then punished for speaking Spanish, for being Mexican-American, and having a “Spanish sounding” last name. My eighth grade English teacher Mrs. Garza once shared with us that the first time she felt utter humiliation was as a very young girl who had to use the bathroom while in school. She did not know English or the translation of, “¿Puedo ir al baño?” Her teacher would not allow her to use the bathroom until she asked in English without help. As then-Mrs. Garza did not know how to speak English, she soiled herself in front of her classmates, and cried all the way home in deep shame and embarrassment.
My grandparents have shared similar stories of being punished for speaking Spanish in school, and discovered speaking Spanish was more harmful to survive and make a living in American society. Mi abuelo shared he didn’t care if his teachers told him not to speak Spanish, he spoke and got in trouble anyway. He later didn’t learn English until he joined the military. My grandma says her accent caused people to think she is unintelligent.
In the documentary “Stolen Education,” stories of elders who were children during this violent time and victims of educational stagnation merely for being themselves, are re-told with more heartbreaking personal accounts. Across the United States, many American ethnic minorities have similar experiences in which their cultural language and method of sharing was stripped from them in order to assimilate. This is an ever ongoing occurrence and discussion. The difference being, for many South Tejanxs “the border crossed us” and our forced assimilation is even more gruesome.
My grandparents decided not to teach Spanish to their children or grandchildren for this reason. While growing up in the 1990s, it was embarrassing for my classmates to speak Spanish or have an accent. It was one of the more obvious “othering” markers, even in a school that was already full of “others,” with 80% Mexican-American or Latinx students.
When I went to college at a predominantly White, conservative school and took Spanish classes, I felt completely defeated. My accent was naturally better than anyone else’s in my class, I was constantly asked to be study partners with my non-Latinx classmates, but I was worse off than all of them. I struggled referencing “proper” Spanish with the Tex-Mex Spanish I had grown up with and never quite accepted as my own tongue.
Now, privileged English-speaking families in the US often pay upwards of thousands of dollars to send their children to schools that teach Spanish. Sometimes they raise their children with nannies who teach it to them as we've seen with Beto O'Rourke. We spend hundreds on apps or programs that claim to teach us other languages. Speaking Spanish in many professions is “rewarded” with better pay or opportunities.
Language is powerful because it shapes our world. It shapes the way we think and actualize our lives: the way we communicate with each other in intimate settings and in broad demonstrations. Language is how we feel.
I didn’t begin to recognize this power fully until I read Sandra Cisneros's work. She is a fellow San Antonian and one of my personal heroines. La Sandra writes in English and Spanish, intermixing the languages in a way that made sense to me, a Brown girl in an American world. I wasn’t inspired to write this until I read Yesika Salgado’s poem “Dulzura,” in which she describes how much more full and “beautiful it is to be loved in Spanish.” Different languages create completely different perspectives by way of putting words to our feelings and making them shareable in order to connect. I often feel I've lost a lot of this context and other perspective to feel and experience the world.
In one of my favorite movies “Selena” we see her struggle with speaking Spanish versus singing it. Selena taught herself Spanish mostly on her own when she was a young woman, but spoke openly on her experiences in growing up as a Tejana — more American than Mexican, exactly like me.
All of this is to say that my experience and context isn’t an unusual one. I am now teaching myself Spanish as a means to connect with communities better and to understand myself more fully. As we see students protesting their teachers for demanding Spanish-speaking students speak “American,” we must be cognizant of our historical and cultural pasts to fully understand ourselves. Fully understanding ourselves includes recognizing our place in modern society and its oppressive pitfalls so we can fully organize for autonomy and political stakes. Spanish is the language of my ancestors’ and my colonizers, and in that knowledge I allow for more self-reflection, reclamation, and empowerment to the next steps. To recognize language evolves, and that societies reflect our historical happenings is paramount if we are to fully stand in our power. Communicating in various languages is a profound skill, one we should stand proudly in and reclaim.
I RIDE FOR MARIE KONDO because her method has quite literally revolutionized my life. The critiques I've seen online the last couple of weeks have left me upset and even offended. I chalk it up to my observation that Americans are so good at holding onto the limiting mindset of, "If I don't understand it, I don't like it, and I will then dismiss it," especially if it comes from a woman, let alone a woman of color from another country.
Marie does not demand or order anyone to get rid of anything they don't want to. She is very clear about giving a person full control over their things and how they feel about them. She does not judge why people keep the things they do, and when someone is stuck deciding she asks, "Do you want to bring this with you to the future?" This question is important because it circles back to her initial ask of, "Why do you want to tidy?"
Clearly, she understands humans operate from a place of emotion and not reason, more often than not. (Emotions, not policy or reason, are also why we vote the way we do!) As someone who has held onto something as unnecessary as receipts for their "sentimental value," KonMari has completely revolutionized the way I think about stuff and my self-worth tied to consumerism. I didn't really think I had a problem until a couple close friends came over one evening and exasperatedly said, "Wow, Denise, you have a lot of stuff. I feel overwhelmed, honestly."
My mom is someone who shows her love by giving gifts. She is a wonderful parent and I have never doubted how much she cares for and loves my brother and I. My apartment is a testament to all of the things she has "loaned" me, bought or brought over because she thought I'd need them. How often have I gone to a store and thought, "Wow, I absolutely NEED this"? How often have I felt insecure and down and remedied my feelings with retail therapy?
Through my KonMari process, I've realized many things other people think I might need often aren't needed and go unused. Things I thought I needed or bought to feel better about myself and my ability and freedom to buy them, have been buried somewhere in a cupboard or in the back of one of my closets. In the last couple of weeks, I have given clothes and other items away that do not bring me joy anymore. It's been extremely emotional for me to go through some pieces as the memories flood back to who I was when I wore them. Marie Kondo's method of holding and thanking each item has been the most helpful action in understanding and releasing my emotional ties. As I hold and reflect on items I've kept because they were gifts, I have begun to recognize how truly loved I am. I refused to part with many gifts because I felt disrespectful and ungrateful for this sentiment of love. KonMari's core belief of respecting our things has helped me transform my mindset of feeling gratitude for these gifts from others and items bought for myself, then allow them to move on and out of my space.
The most ironic part of the thanking step challenges how I have been actively working on allowing people to come into my life, serve whatever purpose was to be fulfilled at the time, and have the ability to let go with grace when we outgrew or moved on in our relationship. So why was it so hard for me to do this with inanimate objects, junk even? I'm still trying to figure this out and I imagine maybe the answer will come to me as I process through the rest of the method. Currently, I still need to go through my shoes and purses before I can move on to books.
All-in-all, I truly feel like Marie Kondo's method came into my life at the exact right moment. My WHY for tidying reflects the growth I want to cultivate in myself, my relationship with Anthony, and respect for my living spaces. When shopping, it has helped me re-think why I am buying something. Before I used to think, "Do I need this?" and I would do mental and emotional gymnastics to justify the purchase. Now I think, "Is this item going to bring me joy or serve a purpose beyond my current state?"
If you're ready for a challenge and opportunity to truly upgrade your life, I am a staunch supporter and believer in Marie Kondo and her philosophy. For those who are intimidated by the challenge, please know it is hard and time-consuming, but the peace and pride I already feel is worth the effort. I'm excited to see and show you all the final outcome of my tidied space.
My family and I went to Cornerstone for much of the beginning of my life. I always liked going because it was opulent, huge and beautiful. I was too young to understand the service, but I remember especially liking the Christmas midnight mass.
The ritual made it special and I learned about Christ. I genuinely love(d) him. I spent most of my life feeling an immense connection to my religion and my spiritual energy in this way. I applied my feelings at church with every day life in good and bad ways. I enjoyed going there until after 9/11 when the weird fire & brimstone-esque Zionism began. The fun and poignant parables became dark productions of instilling fear and supporting war. It made me deeply question many things because it made me so uncomfortable and angry. I can’t recall being back since.
At a younger, more ignorant, age/time, I used my beliefs as something that made me “better” than others and judged them instead of being secure within myself.
It took going to an extremely conservative Christian college to recognize that most of the culture of Christianity there wasn’t how I aligned. (If you’ve seen “Saved!” then you might, kind of understand, except sprinkle in serious racism, homophobia, and sexism.) However, I did learn a lot of historical and social context of the Gospel, and it transformed my faith into something else. It gave me a perspective that dispelled pretty much nearly everything I was taught to believe. Most importantly, I made friends with some of the kindest, most selfless and intelligent people I’ve ever met. They taught me more about being a loving person and being critical of oppression than anything I’d experienced. I later abandoned my faith completely in hurt and defiance.
Church was never a place to feel safe for me. I always felt uncomfortable and on guard. Since being in social justice spaces, I have found my spiritual root again. It began by working with people of all backgrounds, and calling violent things what they *were* and what they *are* instead of letting violence define our every day lives. It sprouted from my understanding of Christ as a leader within known historical context. I’m still learning and it’s truly awesome.
The more I learn of Jesus as a man, the more I understand and feel compelled to learn about his context, the more I find leaders throughout time who worked from various embodiments of radical love and actually changed many things for the better. I know many, many people in my community who are these selfish and strong leaders because they genuinely don’t want anyone to suffer or feel without. I also found a deeper connection in the part of my spirituality I could never explain in words, but felt deeply, always, through more indigenous, non-Christian, spiritual beliefs.
We are now, “officially,” in the Christmas season. Within this season we’ve already seen children terrorized with gas while seeking asylum. Similar gas that’s been used in Palestine and various uprisings here in the US, like Standing Rock and Ferguson. It is similar gas activists had to create “first aid” info documents online for, which included items like milk of magnesia because it washes out the searing pain from eyes easier and allows for inflammation to subside to breathe.) Did anyone forget the Christmas story is precisely about two refugees seeking safety elsewhere from their homes to ensure a life for their unborn child?
Meanwhile, just a few days ago, 27 members of a North Carolina Methodist church were arrested for blocking an ICE van after a member of their congregation was apprehended.
In the Netherlands, there is a congregation that has been holding service for 27 days so an Armenian family can’t be deported. Many Muslim organizations have been fundraising and gathering supplies of medical aid and food for refugees. These are folks living in accordance to their faiths. The best thing about most major religions is the common belief in treating others how you treat yourself.
We have a lot of reflecting to do as citizens of earth, and not just our respective little corners of it. If you consider yourself “religious” or not, I implore you question the things you believe and why you believe them. Why do you look up to the people you do? What can you do to be kinder and more just? How can you inspire others to be this way also?
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