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  • Writer's pictureLa Voz Latina

Let’s face it: Latinos deal with language insecurity

By: Alexa Figueroa 🇸🇻

Spanish books on a shelf at the University Book Center on Sept. 25, 2023. (Yessica Mayo)

There is a debate about Latinidad within the Hispanic community and students at UMD have felt its effects.

Latinidad is a term of solidarity within the Latinx community. Latinidad describes the similar characteristics that make people from Latin American countries as Latino. Some people feel as though there are outdated ideas of what being Latinx should be. One big example is the ability to speak Spanish.

Students at UMD highlighted their struggles in being recognized as part of the community.

Sophia da Silva:

Da Silva is Brazilian, part of the group of Latinos that are continuously under fire for their identity. According to the Pew Research Center, “Brazilians are not considered to be Hispanic or Latino because the federal government's definition of the term – last revised in 1997 – applies only to those of “Spanish culture or origin” such as Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, South or Central American or other origins, regardless of race.”

Da Silva says otherwise. “Brazil shares many cultural and historical similarities to Spanish-speaking Latin America…the federal definition is a definition that comes from outside the community from a government that wants to other us.”

She says that she feels excluded from being Latina simply because her country primarily speaks Portuguese. “I think there's also a lot of the language being part of the identity. And then it's like, oh, you're not Latino enough if you don't speak Spanish.”

She says that language brings people together and it is part of the culture. But she often feels like an imposter because speaking Spanish is not part of her specific culture.

“There are times that you go somewhere and people can see that I'm Latina, I look Latina…but I don't speak Spanish, and then the way that they treat you changes and it sucks because for me it's not even because I don't have that connection it's just because my country simply does not speak Spanish.”

She adds that she feels bad when that happens. “I understand that you thought that you had someone that you could really relate to, that understood your experience. And now you feel like that's been taken away.”

Even though Da Silva speaks Portuguese and continues to build upon her skills, she often times feels linguistically insecure.

“I do get language insecurity. Like, there's a lot of words that I don't know, especially like, slang terms that I don't know, that just puts me out of the culture. So that's something that I struggle with.”

Jesus Quintana

Quintana remembers a time in his life when he was called a “fake Latino” because he didn’t speak much Spanish. He is Bolivian and moved around a lot when he was growing up. He says that his mom speaks to him in Spanish occasionally but his dad assimilated to American culture and only speaks to him in English. He also didn’t grow up around many Spanish-speaking individuals.

“A big part of like, our culture is our language and to not be able to speak it fluently means I can't really be into Latina culture.”

He says that he doesn't feel comfortable speaking Spanish with anybody. Particularly with his family who refer to him as “the gringo of the family.”

“There's always like a label, they're gonna give somebody like me. And, you know, having that label just makes me feel like there's not even really a point in trying. If I'm just gonna be given a label regardless.”

He adds that language is not the only factor that could make him Latino, but it is a big factor that hinders his ability to be able to fully embrace his heritage.

Despite this, Quintana feels as though he can relate to other parts of Latino culture such as watching telenovelas, celebrating Christmas a day early, and eating Salteñas and Sopa de Mani.

“Food is probably the thing I relate to the most because it’s just food we make that Latinos know within our families and cultures. It’s always able to bring people together.”

Tamara Zuniga

Zuniga grew up in a Salvadoran household that primarily spoke in Spanglish. She never quite picked up Spanish fluently which has led her to question if she is really Latina.

“I used to be ashamed of trying because I used to get teased a lot about how I said things wrong or I used the wrong…gender term. And that just kind of made me ashamed to even try because why would I try to communicate if you're just gonna laugh at me and ignore what I'm trying to say?”

Although Zuniga isn’t fluent in Spanish, she still finds ways to immerse herself in Latino culture. She enjoys reading Pablo Neruda's poetry and listening to Latino artists such as Esteman and Leonora Post Punk.

“There was a moment where I did feel like I wasn’t Latina just because of my inability to properly speak Spanish. But even though I do think that language is an important part of a culture, I don't think it's the end all of being involved in the culture.”

She says that to this day she still feels ashamed to speak Spanish but she really wants to learn more.

“I want to be able to talk to people who I can't normally, right, like, a lot of family members back home, like they don't know English, but I want to learn their stories. So I kind of have to make the effort. And I feel like that's kind of like a primary motivation to learn.”

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