When I encounter fellow Latinx in my daily life, the question "Do you speak Spanish?" never fails to come up. As a Puerto Rican, I wish that I could answer "si" and continue to carry on the conversation in Spanish. Unfortunately, I was not raised speaking Spanish. I was born and raised in mainland USA, and English is my native tongue.
As soon as I respond that I am not fluent in Spanish, I am met with confusion and sometimes, even criticism: "How could you not speak Spanish?" "I made sure to teach my children Spanish." "But you are Hispanic." Not knowing Spanish has made me feel like an outsider of the Latinx community.
In middle school, a lunch table of Latina girls found amusement in me not being "Spanish enough" and poked fun at me. It is frustrating not knowing Spanish, but I am here to say that not knowing the language does not make me any less of a Latina.
As a Latina, there are many traditions and cultural aspects that I enjoy. Nothing makes me feel more Latina than sitting down at mi madre's dinner table to feast on her beloved pollo guisado, or the way my taste buds react to the rico flavor of mi abuela's red kidney beans.
Eating such delicious homemade meals from my family makes for lasting, precious memories. Of course, my love of Hispanic food does not stop there. From coconut water to empanadas and tostones to plantain chips to Mexican tacos and burritos, there is no food that I delight in more than that of my people. When the Summer season makes its long-awaited arrival, you can find me on the hunt for piraguas on the streets to combat the ninety-degree heat.
Aside from food, I enjoy bonding with mi madre while watching telenovelas. The first telenovela I remember watching is La Usupadora, and back then, I did not understand anything that was going on in the show. As I grew older, Netflix came around, and suddenly, I was given the ability to turn on that neat feature that is closed captions, allowing me to read the English subtitles to any telenovela I wanted.
The first show I watched in my early twenties using closed captions was María la del Barrio, which starred the Mexican singer and actress Thalía. It turned out to be quite an entertaining show, especially with the antagonist Soraya's over-the-top antics — like that time she tried to seduce her ex-lover Luis Fernando's son because she couldn't have Luis Fernando himself. Shudder.
Soon after this show, I tuned into what became my favorite telenovela: Rubí, starring Megan Fox's stunning look-alike, Bárbara Mori. Mori's fiery performance convinced viewers that she was the insane gold digger she was pretending to be, and it was this show that introduced me to an array of Latinx actors that I would later see in other telenovelas, like Sebastian Rulli, who played Arturo in Teresa, an eerily similar show to Rubí.
There isn't any American drama that is quite like a telenovela, and I can say the same for Latin music. When I go to visit mi abuela, I know just where to find her in her apartment complex, the sound of salsa filling the hallways and drawing my ears near to her door.
Before, I listened solely to American music, but now that I am older, I understand what Madonna was singing about in her single, "Music:" Music makes the people come together. You don't have to understand the words to get lost in the rhythms and grooves that take over your body.
Late salsa artist Hector Lavoe's music does just that to me. When I hear his song "El Cantante," I feel connected with the faraway island of Puerto Rico, the place of my bloodlines, my ancestors, my history. Lavoe's salsa music was often accompanied with majestic orchestras in the background, enrapturing listeners into a dreamlike experience.
No, I may not know the Spanish language, but I am eager to learn it one day. Fun fact: Even Mexico's superstar Selena Quintanilla-Perez, who was born in Texas, was not fluent in Spanish until she had to learn the language to perform Tejano songs for the family band, Los Dinos.
For now, I will continue to appreciate all of what my culture has to offer, which is plenty that I am truly grateful to be a part of. I am a Latina. Nothing can change what I am, and what I was born to be. Coquito, anyone?