by Brenda Hernández Jaimes
Empty are the people that are ashamed of who they are. These people live in a constant hell without knowing it. To deny and be ashamed of your background, heritage, language that you speak and, ultimately, of your physical appearance is to abandon yourself and leave your soul dry.
Hate has never truly dwelled in my heart, but these hollow people come so very close to creating this feeling. For many years I could never comprehend why anyone would twist their mouth in annoyance when I spoke to them in Spanish.
Speaking in this beautiful language is my way of connecting to my community. To utter a buenos días, provecho or hasta luego is to communicate that I am also like them: a proud Latina and that they aren’t alone in this country. This is my way of demonstrating that I’m here as well, with them and I would be there for them. By speaking in my parents native tongue, I create a safe space for my community and I. The chains of having to speak only in broken English are gone and a warmth is quickly surrounding us. This warmth is a small but strong link between us. This link creates a connection and an open trust that was non-existent before. Jokes, advice and bits and pieces of our private life are shared in these few moments because what else do we have to share but ourselves.
But not everyone accepts this warmth from their people. They hear those words in the language that raised them and they sneer, only offering a disgusted glare that would stab at anyone’s heart.
“I don’t speak Spanish.”
Their words feel like someone pulling at my hair. For so many years I never understood why anyone would stop speaking this gorgeous language, our language. But it doesn’t ever really end there. The denial goes as far as betraying their birthplace, being ashamed of their childhood home and striving to be as white as possible.
Why would anyone want to remove their rich culture and history for one that is filled with genocide? Why would you claim a culture that is known for appropriating everything and tries so hard to make it their own, while only ever creating a bastardized version of it?
When they say they don’t speak Spanish, they are erasing a part of the foundation that defines them. They’re ashamed to speak to people that don’t fit into the blond and blue eye appearance they dream of becoming one day, without realizing they never will. They’re ashamed of the strength it took for our people to endure the many tribulations caused by the people they so desperately want to become. They’re embarrassed of their physical appearance and go as far as to powder their face like Porfirio Díaz. But they’ll never look as basic as Lauren or Chad.
It’s not all their fault for being ashamed of their culture, not really. The quiet racism that white people have instilled on latinos has resulted in these people becoming arrepentidos. The blame can only be shared with the people they idolize.
The birth of this denial can usually be traced back to a simple phrase: “You shouldn’t be speaking in Spanish to your children because you’ll confuse them.”
Confusion can settle in and instead of fighting back by teaching their children their native tongue, they erase the opportunity to participate in the warmth of their community. In a small way it’s easy to understand why they would rather not make their children go through the awful bullying and mistreatment they went through, but our people have endured much more. By speaking another language, more doors are opened for children to grow and connect.
To begin with, it’s fair to assume that arrepentidos don’t have much love for their heritage when it’s so easy for their colonizers to come and tell them to change who they are and quickly sway them to destroy any evidence of what makes them Latino without much thought. The denial goes so far as to make them believe that their home country is just as ignorant as white people paint it to be. Their home becomes a country that has no education and and is so dangerous, you can’t step out into the daylight without immediately being shot and killed for no reason at all.
But they keep eating the shit that these close minded white people have given them. They stuff their faces with this mistreatment. They eat it up, all of it, time and time again. At the end of the day this insecurity and this denial, this desire to be part of, excludes them from the diverse and welcoming community that birthed them can only backfire. They will never be white. They’ll never be a Chad or a Lauren. The white man will always see them as they truly are, as what they’ve strived so hard to erase. Once they realize their mistake, it will be too late. The people they left behind won’t need them, want them, accept them anymore. Mistreatments cannot be forgotten, much less the embarrassment. Instead of being greeted with open arms, the backs of the people who fought for them will be the only thing they see. There will be nothing left for them but to keep ignoring the vile smell of shit that emanates from their mouths. They’ve let part of who they are die, what else can it do but rot?