My BFF's MIL is taking a business trip to Puerto Rico at some point in the next year and she asked me if I wanted to go with them for a week or so. One, I'd love to go, and two, I'd like to speak the language well enough not to offend native speakers while I'm there. Also, I've wanted for a while to--I have no idea what they're called, but they're usually hosted in Spanish-speaking countries for a period of a week to a couple of months where you are immersed in the language as well as classes in Spanish and can opt for college credit if you want to in some programs. A coworker of mine did it several years ago, but she's unavailable for a quick email and google has a terrifying number of results.
I'm pretty sure it's going to take an immersive experience after a certain point to get past the threshold learning experience for me. One drawback of living in a state that's effectively, if not officially bilingual at times is that it's painfully easy to get to adequate for simple or necessary conversation (or casework) and be able to read and understand a lot and never get anywhere past that and not much spoken because it feels like--and I do emphasize feels like--it's easy on from there,which is not true. My best Spanish was spoken when I was a clerk and a caseworker because the translation lines were a.) wait time like whoa and b.) I'd get (very occasional) South American translators who didn't have a lot of current Mexican dialect and I remembered the stuff that failed translation (I had a notepad for this once upon a time). But that was when I was using it a lot and my clients found it hilarious to listen to me, which trust me, nothing on earth starts off a Food Stamp or Medicaid on the right foot than your client engaged in hysterical laughter five minutes in (sometimes along with the translator, so it's like stereo hysteria)..
The other thing is, my Spanish-speaking coworkers are awesome about being supportive of me learning and are very willing to speak it to me when we're not actively working on something (or randomly quiz me, which they find immensely entertaining as well), but I can't believe it isn't other than frustrating when I'm limited this much. They've helped a lot in nailing context and introducing specific Texas dialect and border words and phrases--and hilariously when they talk to each other, raising their voices slightly so I can hear them if it something they think I'll understand--but I'd like to get better at it so it isn't such a huge effort to respond.
Doing Duolingo was really enlightening in that; I flew through a lot of the lessons in a couple of days and only slowed down because I was getting into preterite tense (my waterloo of choice), and I'm back to reading most (easy to medium) Spanish language articles and blogs okay and learning a lot by context, but there's a point--and I know this from life--that's coming up fast where not doing spoken plus listening is going to make it almost impossible to go much further. I'm text anyway--my English pronounciation of words isn't airtight since I read like a lot, and my medium for all is again, text--so it's way, way, way too easy to default harder into read/write and not even realize I'm doing it.
There's Another Part to This
Other than wanting to speak a second language that a quarter of my family, a lot of my friends, and my state speaks, and because I really don't do well at life when I'm not engaged in learning something new, there's a more personal reason, though I'm not sure if I can explain why this has become a thing for me.
My niece's grandparents as well as some of my BIL's family are bilingual and while he's somewhat bilingual, I think, he rarely uses it, and my sister isn't at all, her grandparents do speak to her in Spanish and she's going to pick it up from them growing up (they live very close, so she sees them as much as she sees us) and like other members of my family who are bilingual, trilingual and holyshithowmanylingual (what's the word for something who speaks like a ton of languages because they're a linguist? We have one of those), I'd like to speak it with her as well.
It's common in Texas to be biracial both technically back several generations and more recently, from those of Mexican descent that were here when Texas became independent to recent immigration from Mexico, everything in between, and all of these; we also get a large number of South American refugees and asylum-seekers as well as regular immigration, which isn't something I knew until I became a caseworker and started working cases for new immigrants, refugees, and those seeking asylum (hint: way more than I'd guessed).
When I was growing up, my school celebrated both Texas Independence Day and Cinco de Mayo, and in the office today we celebrated Mexican Independence Day and usually celebrate Día de Muertos as well as other federal, state, and local holidays. It's cultural in Texas, and like going to quinceñeras and having piñatas as parties and knowing your main food group will always involve refried beans and where to go to get the best tortillas, and while very young, memorizing polite greetings for your elderly cousin who doesn't speak very good English and who will inevitably squeeze your cheek afterward, it's not something I thought about as any more than life.
My niece, however, will be raised both culturally and ethnically (I'm using the US Census term here) Hispanic, and may decide to join the Catholic Church (her father is lapsed, from what my sister says) and go through communion and want to have a quinceñera, which either doing or attending is something most people in Texas will or have done.
Again, none of this is new to Texans; Texas was a Mexican state before it was independent or joined the US. Mexicans were here before white Americans, this once being part of Mexico. I mean, if you make a real effort--and trust me, nothing pegs racism quite as dramatically and obviously as trying to stay away from Mexican culture since I'm not sure you can leave your house or let your kid leave--I guess it can be done, but I honestly have no idea how.
But despite the ubiquity of Mexican culture in Texas, despite the fact most if not all people born here of any race or ethnic group are immersed in it from birth, despite the fact that fajita cook-offs are a thing that everyone goes to (it's like I imagine Heaven--magic), despite the fact that tamales are a traditional Christmas/New Year's dish--because she's Hispanic in Texas, which is a border state where whiney white guys mutter about Mexican undocumented workers taking their jobs and shout that they should go back to Mexico, she's going to be harassed.
She's going to be brilliant, I can tell you that right now--she already is desperate to stand up and apparently really, really likes me to carry her around doing the two step because speed--and she's beautiful and has cheeks of infinite squeezability (I get it now), and the following will possibly occur when she starts public school in Texas; if her mother or father doesn't state outright and several times she speaks English, she will automatically be placed in a class for Spanish speakers because she's Hispanic and of course she doesn't know English like the white kids.
I know this because my cousins told me about the battle required to get them into regular kindergarten when the teachers wouldn't believe their Hispanic Bilingual mother when she told them that the girls were raised in a bilingual household and their English was fine (and as good as their Spanish). It happened to a close friend who told me--after I told her about that insanity--that it had been a thing for her and her brothers, too, and they actually weren't bilingual, nor were their parents. A good thing--assuring that young children who may not speak English fluently get extra attention and instruction in primary school--is being wielded in very intended racism.
She'll be exposed to conservative pundits talking about the growing Hispanic population in the US like it's goddamn Armageddon in progress; she'll be assumed by many to be destined to grow up to get knocked up just to get on welfare; she'll be assumed to be a 'anchor baby' (Jesus, that bullshit has got to fucking die already) and the child of undocumented workers if not undocumented herself; there's a chance that once she hits grade school and starts getting all of this thrown at her, she'll stop speaking Spanish because it's a lingual marker, she'll avoid Tejano music or mariachi, and she'll desperately try to fit into white society as best she can by rejecting half her heritage because she can't change how she looks; like her father, she has darker skin than her mother's side of the family, curly black hair, and already has brown eyes, and that's what she'll see being labeled as less.
I have zero hope that the immigration debates are gonna end anytime soon, and Texas being a very conservative border state, I don't see this cleaning itself up in a satisfactory non-racist manner before she can read CNN or surf the web. While I believe things are getting better and suck less, overall, she's three months old and I'm not sure how much progress is going to be made by the time she reaches the age of reason and can accidentally flip to Fox news or hit that fucking website where you can patrol the border from your own computer, which still sickens me beyond words to adequately describe. I mean, Child was twelve when he came out to me as gay and I counted the six years until he was old enough to marry and couldn't because it would be a guy (yes, eighteen is insane to get married, but that's beside the point) and therefore illegal and cause earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, and possibly the re-emergence of the Black Death or something.
I'm white, and I have no idea if being relatively fluent in Spanish is particularly helpful for her; I doubt it. Her parents and grandparents will protect and teach her as best they can that the world sucks like that sometimes; her bilingual seriouslyhowmanylanguagesdoesshespeaklin
I can't think of a reason it would hurt to know Spanish well enough to speak it when I'm around Spanish speakers without pulling out my phone to look up a word I can't remember.
Speaking of: at work, Mexican Independence Day was celebrated at work with all the delicious pastries in the world.
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