I Can Barely Roll My Rs, but That Doesn't Make Me Any Less Latina

Tavi Juarez
Tavi Juarez

I don't speak Spanish, and I can barely roll my Rs. But that doesn't make me any less Latina. Identity isn't limited to language, sex, or gender barriers.

I may not be able to speak Spanish with you, but that doesn't change my heritage, my family, my hips, or my hair. Many of us non-Spanish-speaking Latinx are victims of circumstance. Before I was even a year old, my very white and very Southern mother gained full custody of me when my parents divorced. I lived with my mother and her side of the family for my entire childhood in the rural suburbs outside of Birmingham, AL. Growing up at their house, my ears heard Elvis, not Selena.

Although fluent in Spanish, my dad never spoke it at home. Even if we had lived together during my childhood, what's there to pick up? However, I have to give credit to my Tía Mayra, Tía Mirta, Tía Buck, and Tía Monica, who did the most to expose my little baby ears to Spanish.

Between my toddler years and middle school, all four of them came on their own and lived with my dad for a little while in Alabama. When I'd visit, we'd cook tamales, we'd deep clean the entire house, and we'd dance (sometimes to Selena!) the entire time. In their own way, they each taught me something about my heritage, but there was never enough time to learn an entire language, too.

Even though I struggle to roll my Rs, you don't get to decide my identity. I understand why people are passionate about this. It's a very personal topic. A language is something you can share with others. Yet we can share cultural experiences without speaking the same language. We can dance, eat, and laugh at the same things. Sharing a language is a facet of culture, but it's not a requirement.

We can connect to each other in ways that transcend the language barrier — through music, through our food, through a smile, through being able to look at each other's eyes and know exactly what we mean because we share a similar experience, even if it happened in a different language.

Let's find ways to build bridges with each other rather than find ways to separate us.