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Finding Myself Before I Leave Mills| Language barriers and the pressure that comes along

(Dani Toriumi)
(Dani Toriumi)

Two Campanil issues ago, I talked about what it means to be white passing and how I handle that. Another part of that, and part of why I struggle with my identity at times is because I am not fluent in Spanish. I am fluent in English because that is what my grandparents spoke, what my mom learned and what I was taught. When it comes to my Spanish,  I know enough to have simple conversations, but when the speed picks up or big words come into play, I get lost.

When I turned 10-years-old, I realized that I needed and desired to know Spanish. I began to see more of my friends speaking Spanish in school and realized I could not join in on their conversations. In those moments, I started to believe in the idea that I was not Mexican enough and that I could not claim my cultural identity. At the time in my life, I could not phrase this in my head.

Since then I have worked on my Spanish. I am terrible when it comes to grammar, I cannot write using the accent marks, I cannot spell and there are still a ton of words I do not know. However, I have conversations with my grandpa and great-grandma in Spanish as much as possible now. This past summer, I even went to Mexico for three weeks and I impressed myself with how much I actually knew and picked up so easily.

The key is to practice. “Practice makes perfect” is such a cliche, but it is true. Here at Mills I have found a support system through my friends and now in Professor Zimmerman’s Raices (Roots): Latin America and the Caribbean class this semester. I feel comfortable speaking in Spanish; it gives me the chance to perfect it and become fluent.

It is important to know, not only so that I can pass it on to any future children I may have, but also to be able to go out into the world and talk to those who only know Spanish. I could translate for them and help give them a voice, especially with the uncertainty of what the future holds now that Donald Trump is president elect. I want to use my Spanish to not only connect to my cultural identity and heritage better, but to help my people and my community.

It is important to recognize, at least in my opinion, not knowing your mother language does not mean you are not that identity. Some people are unable to learn for various reasons or because they had the same mentality like me when I was 10-years-old: Why do I need to learn? I also believe that knowing the language is important. It is necessary to learn more about your culture and important to claim and use for others.

I appreciate being at an institution where I can have a space and support network of friends and colleagues who will practice their Spanish with me, correct me when I am wrong and allow me to make mistakes as I learn. It has helped me learn more about myself, to see the beauty in the language and culture, and to give me the ability to help others.