“‘La Comunidad'” by ever/siempre is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
By Johanna Barrantes, DC Immersion’s Engagement Strategist
When I think of things that give me comfort, when I am able to collect episodes of my life to feel connected to myself and to the world, I can’t help but think back to the moments I spend with a close friend of mine. How we laugh out loud going back and forth in English and Spanish, comforted by our duality. The richness of our connection is only magnified by the understanding of our roots and how language plays deeply into it.
When I was young, I struggled so much with feelings of belonging or rather lack thereof. This anecdote is not unique. It is at the core of every immigrant child who sets foot in new lands, who needs to reconcile a drastic reshaping of their identity all while mourning a place of birth that will get foggier with time.
¿Quién soy entonces?
It took me an academic year to become fluent. Once I learned English, I refused to speak Spanish. Through the rest of middle school and high school, I only spoke Spanish with my mother and really only when she raised her voice and by then I was already struggling to speak with ease. Now as an adult, I can better reflect on my experience and understand the whys of my reaction. Part of this drastic reshaping of my identity was being forced to choose between complete assimilation to a new country, with all that it entailed, or holding on to cultural roots that had no value to the institutions I belonged to.
Now as an adult, I can begin to unlearn all these preconceived notions of integration and identity. I don’t have to choose. I don’t have to fit any molds.
A friend of mine once asked me, do you feel more American or Peruvian? At the time, I said that I felt abundant because I can be both, but the question lingered long after. Was I? Without really being intentional about it I started reconnecting with that which I’d departed with as a child, my language. Unfortunately, that proved to be more of a challenge than I expected. My school had no Spanish literature and showed no interest in exploring its benefits. My neighborhood library had a small selection of foreign language books, mostly translations from American works. I had very limited knowledge of any contemporary Hispanic or Latinx icons since very few were actually studied in school. Where could I feel represented?
¿Quién soy entonces?
Now, I work to keep these components alive. I search, I read, I write and I practice to hold onto my language skills, and better understand why I sought these out.
Language is my connection. Language is part of my duality, it is part of my heritage and an invaluable component of how I contribute to society. This is how I keep a clear vision of my place of birth; my roots. It is who I am.
Mi lengua es mi conexión al mundo. Mi lengua es parte de mi dualidad, es mi herencia y un componente inestimable de como sirvo a mi comunidad. Así es como mantengo viva la luz de mi pasado, de mis raíces. Es quién soy.