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Sólo Tres Dias

I woke up with this phrase: sólo tres dias, whirling in my mind. This would be the title of today’s blog. Sólo tres dias to catch my show while it’s streaming as part of Re-Encuentro, the Latina/o/x Theater Festival that ended last Sunday. All 16 plays in Re-Encuento had 10-day online runs. The plays rolled out one or two a day throughout the festival. Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name? premiered November 19th and is available through Monday, November 29th (Midnight Pacific Time). So, if you haven’t yet seen it, this weekend is your última oportunidad.

If you are lucky enough to grow up in a family where two or more languages are used daily, words and ideas stream out in a smooth consistent flow. You are not even aware that the thoughts forming in your mind are in English or Spanish (or whatever your home language). No matter what I’m writing I’m thinking bilingually, and I am constantly entertained and delighted, and sometimes surprised, by the meaning of words in various languages. Burro in Italian means butter and largo means wide. You shake your head after you get it wrong a time or two and then you're good. More on this in future blogs.

I type Solo tres dias into Google Translate.

Wow, I need to put an accent on that. And, for the first time, I notice the icon to hear its pronunciation. I listen . . . good authentic well-pronounced Spanish. The power of the internet at its best.

Not knowing when an accent is necessary reminds me of the judgment I feel when I'm casually asked, can you translate this.

“I have no idea how you say Motion for Summary Judgement in Spanish."

“But I thought you were bilingual.”

“I am. Let me ask about you. The language of your home is English, yes? How many years of formal education have you had in English? 12? 16? 20? I’ve never been educated in Spanish.”

Growing up, most Raza had two years of high school Spanish, with Anglo kids whining, “so unfair, they already know Mexican (their word, not mine), they have an advantage over us. That’s not right.”

Chicanos born and raised in the Southwest, many of our families here for generations, were punished for speaking Spanish, they tried to beat the Spanish out of us, and in many instances, they succeeded. Of course, this wasn’t just true for our community, this has been done by English speaking settlers to every group -- indigenous people whose lands they/we occupy, people whose ancestral homes were annexed and made part of the United States through war, waves of immigrants that came over centuries. That anyone in this country can maintain a home language (other than English) beyond a generation is nothing short of a miracle.

My theory is that many folks oppose the retention and any formal education of our home languages -- whether Spanish, Cantonese, Arabic, Swahili, Hmong, Mandarin, and others – due to the deep psychic wound experienced by prior generations of white ethnics when they were stripped of their language and culture. Pay it forward in the worst of ways. A wrong was done to my people, we're gonna do it to yours.

How many times have I had this conversation, “my (fill in the blank) had to learn English when they came to this country."

“Hold up, who said anything about us NOT learning English. Of course, we learn English, but why should we be stripped of our home language?”

I could go on for pages about the justifications for wanting English-only education. 1) it confuses children when they speak more than one language. Not true, speaking multiple languages is the norm in most countries regardless of the level of education. 2) real Americans give up their heritage, language, and ties to their homeland. Last I looked St. Patrick’s Day Parade was celebrated by the Irish and by me too. It’s beautiful to hold on to the culture and language of our ancestors no matter how many generations removed we are from those lands.

For several years, I worked in the field of Education Law and was deeply immersed in issues of language acquisition, bilingualism, and equity. These are fascinating areas of law that are still of great interest to me.

But back to my thinking and writing bilingually. Many a friend has had this experience in a writing workshop where we are the only Latinos in the room. We exchange manuscripts or read for 5,10, 15 minutes. Lots of good feedback but inevitably, someone says, “well, when I see/hear Spanish words you've lost me. I feel excluded. I think it’s better if you don’t use Spanish, or if you must, to provide a translation. Otherwise, I really don’t want to keep reading.”

The first thought that comes to mind is pinches pendejos, we read stuff ALL the time in English that is unfamiliar to us, and we just go with it, expecting we’ll get the gist in context, we have faith, and keep reading. The Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Junot Diaz said it best.

'Nuf said about language. This is the last weekend to see Why Would I Mispronounce My Own Name?, where I code-switch between English and Spanish. That’s how I roll, and I’m betting you will understand everything, even if you don’t speak Español.

To see my hour-long show, which is streaming on-demand, click here. It will take you to the Re-Encuento Registration Page where you provide your name and email address and voilà, you can watch.

Wishing all of you a good weekend.

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