Hispanic Heritage Month celebrates the histories, cultures, and contributions of those with ancestors that came from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. OpenSesame is sharing stories and perspectives from our Hispanic and Latinx colleagues to champion diversity and share resources that support the Hispanic and Latinx community.
Voices of OpenSesame Juntos Employee Resource Group (ERG):
I spent most of my childhood summers visiting my abuela who lived in the foothills of a mountain in the southwestern part of the United States. I loved to run through the arroyos, eat from her apricot trees, and catch lizards who became my summer companions. Whenever I went inside her house, I was met with love from her big, warm hugs, her large plates of food with her homemade tortillas, and her affectionate “mijita.” Outside of her affectionate address, I was rarely met with one thing: Spanish.
Even though my abuela was bilingual in Spanish and English, she never spoke Spanish with me. This was the same at home; my mom never spoke Spanish with me either. There are many contributing factors, with one being that I lived in a multicultural home, and my dad didn’t speak the language, nor was he Hispanic. Thus, our language at home was only English with a sprinkle of Spanish words and phrases. However, the main reason I never grew up speaking Spanish was because of the generation I was born into.
My mom’s family is part of the Hispanic community in the U.S. who predates the United States itself. They lived on the land in the southwest that eventually became a state. My family never immigrated to the U.S., but were instead living in areas where “the border crossed us.” For my mom, she faced discrimination for speaking Spanish, especially in school, and was faced with all aspects of assimilation. My mom’s perspectives on Spanish grew from this experience and impacted how my sister and I would grow up without it.
I went through my childhood never questioning my lack of Spanish and thought of it as something fun to listen to when overhearing my mom on the phone, for example. I even took high school Spanish because I thought, “Mom speaks it. It should be an easy class.” It wasn’t until I was older and when my abuela passed away that I began to truly contemplate the important relationship between language and cultural identity. Whenever I asked my mom why my sister and I never learned Spanish, she would always respond by saying, “I felt English was more important because I wanted you to have opportunities.”
Into my adulthood, I began to feel like something was missing, like I wasn’t a “real” Hispanic because I couldn’t speak the language. And from interactions with some Spanish-speaking Hispanics, that became more obvious as they would usually shame my mom for not teaching me our cultural language. But they didn’t understand what contributed to my mom’s decision. My generation didn’t grow up speaking Spanish. My sister didn’t. My first cousins didn’t. We were the result of the effects of discrimination and assimilation that our parents grew up with, where English trumped Spanish at every turn.
Now, as an adult, I’ve been trying to learn my cultural language with the disheartening fact that I’ll never be a fluent Spanish speaker like my abuela’s generation or even my mom’s — as she jokingly calls it — “Spanglish” generation. I still question if I’m Hispanic enough. But with that comes an additional question: How do I self-identify now?
Latinx is one option.
The term Latinx is something I see and hear all the time. It’s in the news, in textbooks, on social media, and even in our company’s courses. However, I don’t use the term. Honestly, I don’t even like it. If there is one way I would not self-identify, it’s as Latinx.
According to Pew Research, most Latinos don’t use the term. And for someone like my mom, along with 76% of the adult Latino population, they haven’t even heard of it. The term is more commonly known among young adults and college graduates.
I can understand how adding an “x” is trying to make the term gender-inclusive. However, the “x” represents another form of erasure to me. My cultural language was taken from me because of the assimilation that tried to erase the language from my mom and her generation, and that assimilation met its goal with many in my generation. The addition of the “x” is just another reminder of that.
The “x” doesn’t follow the grammatical conventions of the Spanish language, and that is the very reason for its use. The “x” attempts to erase the gendered conventions of a language spoken by over 550 million people — in the name of inclusion. However, there are other inclusive equivalents that I believe are more respectful to the Spanish language. There is a term that already exists in English: Latin, as in Latin music and Latin America. There’s even a Spanish version that fits its grammatical conventions, Latine. It uses –e instead of –o or –a. These are more favorable options that don’t try to erase the Spanish language. The “x” seems like a way to fix something that isn’t even broken.
What’s truly broken is the continued prejudice and discrimination against Spanish speakers and the idea that if they don’t speak English in the U.S., they should go back “home.” But that ignores the reality of the U.S. having “the second largest population of Spanish speakers in the world,” and for people like my family, we are home. We’ve been home for generations. We’ve never left.
For various reasons — with some being very personal ones — not all of us may agree with or even like the term Latinx, while some do. This is because the Hispanic and Latino population is not monolithic. We all don’t identify in the same way, and that includes the terms we choose for ourselves and for being more inclusive.
So, how do I choose to self-identify? For me, it’s complicated, but I’ll always be my abuela’s mijita.
By a Member of Juntos ERG
To learn more about how you can propel your DEI initiatives, use the resources below: