Biracial, but Not Bilingual

As I grow older, I am becoming more culturally aware of everything that is happening around me in America. Being biracial, but not bilingual, does make me feel like I’m missing out sometimes. I know that there’s no culture I’m particularly missing out on, but there’s a feeling of belonging I lack. I can’t speak a secret tongue with my siblings about our shared experiences, and I don’t know what it’s like to lovingly roll my eyes as my grandparents repeat the same story about when they were my age. 

I’ve met a lot of biracial people that have faced the same discrimination that I do in America. The difference is that when their culture is doubted, they can effortlessly speak the language of their ancestors, the language filled with culture and childhood memories. And just like that, they are validated. I relate so deeply to biracial people that feel stuck in between two worlds but am left isolated when they can share a language with both sides of them. I’ve never known many other biracial people that just don’t have full access.

I know biracial people that can allow their relationship with language to flow out gracefully, but mine feels faulty, inconsistent, and devoid of meaning. The other day, I met a singer, Denise Carlos, who was a part of a band called Las Cafeteras. I felt my insecurity lift off my chest. They changed my perspective because they were a Spanish band, and most of them didn’t even speak Spanish. They couldn’t go to an interview and relate to all the Chicanx/Latinx families and explain the feelings that their music gave them. It clicked for me that you don’t need to understand the language to feel it. 

With all that being said, I still think language is one of the most meaningful and important pieces of the puzzle when it comes to cultural identity, especially in America. After all, half of the world is bilingual, but America is falling far behind in that race. According to the U.S Census Bureau, 56% of Europeans can converse in two or more languages, compared to the whooping 20% of Americans who are bilingual. And that just isn’t a coincidence. When you put adolescents in a setting where speaking English is rewarded, and every other language is condemned, there isn’t an incentive to learn more than English. As for those who have a different native language, they are forced to feel like that language is a burden.

The schooling system in America is set up for a certain type of person to succeed and is condemning other people to fail. As I look back, I never noticed that programs like English Language Learners were all a part of keeping English as the standard language, and a way to take away pieces of that culture from Chicanx/ Latinx families. It’s important to recognize the xenophobia that defines America’s relationship with other languages. As Gloria Anzaldúa once said, “If they have a low estimation of their tongue, they have a low estimation of themselves.” That’s one of the most well-spoken quotes showing the pain that valuing English in America is having on so many cultures. By the end of the century, English and not Spanish will be the mother tongue of most Chicanx and Latinx families. It is such a scary thought that Americans will have stripped that piece of culture from so many families. 

My point is that it’s okay to not have grown up with a language that has connected you, but you have to try. You have to work harder to connect, and you have to find your culture in the food you eat, the songs you listen to, and the person you’re becoming. From the bottom of my being, if you take anything away from this article, please don’t let white America take away pieces of you to make it easier for you to succeed or blend in. I promise it’s not worth it.