My name does not dictate my tongue

My last name is Castro. My last name is Castro, and I do not know Spanish.

I grew up in a small town where Spanish speakers were scarce and even though my father speaks the language, there was hardly ever a reason for me to know it as a child. It wasn’t until I moved to Houston that I understood the importance of knowing a language other than English.

One struggle as a Hispanic in Texas is the assumption that you know Spanish. Just last night, I asked my friend’s boyfriend to help me with a Spanish assignment and his first reaction was, “you don’t know Spanish?”

When I was younger, I had a friend whose parents were from Mexico. Her parents spoke both English and Spanish and all of their children did as well. One day, I went to their house and her mother told me that Brynn was a white girl’s name and that she was going to call me Brynnita from then on. And she did.

I used to work at a department store in Houston, and customers would walk up to me and just start speaking Spanish or coworkers would run to me and say they needed help with a Spanish-speaking customer. At first it would offend me, but then I realized that I wasn’t the one with the problem. It was those people that carried the burden of ignorance.

I have always wanted to learn it because of the better job opportunities and easier communication with people in my neighborhood back home. Because of this, I decided to take my very first Spanish class this semester. I figured that I would feel at ease surrounded by others that knew just as much if not less than me, but I was greatly surprised. Our professor began by asking what our names were and how much Spanish we knew. He looked at me said, “You know Spanish” and when I said that I did not, he responds “really?” with a shocked look on his face. I wasn’t surprised by his reaction because this happens all the time. I doesn’t matter the race of the person shocked by my lack of bilingualism either. Hispanics are outraged when other Hispanics don’t know Spanish because we have to “preserve our culture”, and people of other races are outraged because “don’t all Mexicans know Spanish?” The answer is no to both of these. I am a third generation Hispanic so my childhood was very “American.” 

I would compare it to English speaking Americans being upset when people move here and don’t know English. My least favorite saying is “You’re in America now! Learn English!” English is not America’s native tongue. Just saying.

My point is that as Americans, we should not assume anything about anyone. This country is great because no one is ever who we think they are, so why do we minimize them by assumption? I’m getting married soon and my fiancé’s last name is Jordan. Maybe then things will get easier.

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