“The U.S-Mexican border es una herida abierta where the Third World grates against the first and bleeds. And before a scab forms it hemorrhages again, the lifeblood of two worlds merging to form a third country — a border culture.
Borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them. A border is a dividing line, a narrow strip along a steep edge. A borderland is a vague and undetermined place created by the emotional residue of an unnatural boundary. It is in a constant state of transition. The prohibited and forbidden are its inhabitants.”
― Gloria E. Anzaldúa, Borderlands/La Frontera: The New Mestiza
Somewhere in Buenos Aires…. “¿De dónde sos?”
“I’m from the US.”
“Wow! But your Spanish is REALLY good!”
“Well, that’s because my family is from Mexico. I lived there half my life.”
“Oh. So you don’t consider yourself Mexican?” “Yeah looks like you’ve joined the dark side and become an imperialist.” “Haha! You’re so an imperialist!”
“¿De dónde sos?”
“I’m from Mexico.”
“Wait! Someone told me you went to school in the States?” “Your accent sounds American. Like SUPER American.” “Yeah, you’re a fake Mexican.” “I know accents, and trust me, yours isn’t Mexican.”
“Funny. You just told me you thought I was Colombian.”
“¿De dónde sos?”
“I’m from Mexico and the US.”
“You can’t be both. Pick one.”
Your Spanish sounds…
…definitely not Argentinian…
…Wait! You speak Spanish?!
The other day, I had to make a recording of myself speaking in Spanish. I couldn’t help but start analyzing my own speech (perk/curse of studying linguistics). I could hear where my tongue would strike my alveolar ridge instead of the back of my teeth. Where I accidentally turned a flap into a stop. Where my English syntax snuck in. Where my Spanish lexicon failed me. Where I wished I could express myself better in my heritage language.
I hear myself hesitating, searching for the right word. Always searching.
Your English sounds…
…Wait! You speak Spanish?!
I’ve read thousands and thousands of pages in English and probably written hundreds. In Spanish? Not so much….
When I write in English, it’s not too hard to find my rhythm. I feel like I can make words sing without ever putting them to music. I can argue; I can joke; I can wonder. (I just can’t use idioms.)
Writing in Spanish is an exercise in self-doubt. I feel vastly limited and uncreative. My vocabulary is lacking, and my writing toolkit seems tiny compared to my English one. I constantly feel that I’m subconsciously translating from English to Spanish without realizing it, like some odd, slightly terrifying self-conspiracy theory. I’m also at the mercy of the internet: “Uh Google? How do I say in Spanish, ‘I studied morphosyntactic focus structures in Gulmancema and compared said structures to typological qualities found in other African languages’? Sorry, I’ve never had to say that to my parents or in a Spanish literature class…”
Writing in Spanish carries a somber tune with a dash of longing. I’m constantly wishing I could write better…
…and one day, I will. Because every day, I read articles or books in Spanish, with the hope that someday the words will flow just as naturally in both languages. Spanish has always been a fight. A fight not to forget; a fight to keep Spanish alive for the next generation; a fight not to lose half of myself.
Is any piece of writing on hyphenated Americans really complete without a reference to Diaspora Blues?
“So, here you are
too foreign for home
too foreign for here.
Never enough for both.”
Excerpt from “Diaspora Blues” by Ijeoma Umebinyuo
Sonrió fuerte, puso su brazo sobre mis hombros, y me miró a los ojos, diciendo, “¿Pero sabés qué? Vos solo necesitás ser Evelyn. Es todo. Sí, podés ser gringa y mexicana a la vez, pero lo que nos importa es que vos seas vos. La que queremos es vos. Evelyn es todo lo que necesitás ser,” y con eso me dio un beso en la mejilla.
“You know what? You just need to be Evelyn. Yeah, you can be American and Mexican at the same time, but what matters to us is that you be you. The one we want is you. Evelyn is all you need to be.”
Thinks to self,
“Is it really that easy?”
Not all borders are a rigid black line. Some are dotted lines. Fluid and blurred and
able to live within us.