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Nearly 19 years ago, I was born in Bell County, Texas. My parents, as well as both sides of my family, are of Puerto Rican descent. Living in a Hispanic household, or at least mine, held a stigma. A stigma where mental health is taboo, and booboo's can be healed by saying "Sana sana colita de rana" and everything can be fixed with Vicks Vapo Rub. However, I was never properly prepared for the biggest sin that can be committed in the Hispanic culture. Not speaking Spanish.
I grew up in Killeen, Texas up until the age of 4-years-old. In that time, my mother and father separated and it was just me, my mom, and my older brother. Prior to my mother having me and my brother, she was enlisted in the U.S. Army where she learned to speak English. The excitement she felt from learning a new language was passed onto her children when she gave birth to my brother Brad, and then to me. Sadly, in her excitement, my mother neglected to simultaneously teach us both languages. Little did we know that would greatly impact our life negatively.
The year is 2005, and by this time I am 5-years-old and living in Georgia. At this point in my life, I don't believe I was fully aware of the fact that I was Puerto Rican. I listened to country music daily, spoke with a Southern accent, ate foods outside of my culture and none of it felt out of place to me. Up until the age of maybe 7 or 8, I lived my life the way everyone else around me was raised.
Now fast forward a few years and every summer, my brother and I are visiting family in Puerto Rico. Thankfully, my amazing grandmother spoke English and my grandfather spoke in broken pieces so we could manage with the rest of the family. It wasn't until I was 9-years-old that my grandfather would make backhanded jokes about not coming back to Puerto Rico until we could speak Spanish.
Let it be known that me and my brother tried. We tried many ways to learn Spanish. My grandmother bought us handheld translators, my mom would try speaking to us in Spanish, we took Spanish in high school, programs online, and nothing ever worked. As I grew, I embraced the parts of me that made me unique. I embraced the Puerto Rican flag every time I saw it. I embraced the music, the food, the language, and I honored my culture with pride. However, as much as I honored my blood for being rich and Hispanic, my family could never fully accept me because I couldn't understand the language. I could understand a few words, and barely follow along in conversations, but I could never properly hold one by myself. My family would call me things like "gringa," which roughly translates to "white girl" or someone who isn't of Hispanic origin.
Now we've come full circle, and I'm three months and five days shy of being 19 and I still cannot fully speak Spanish. I know that my family loves me and they'd give me the world, but there is still a part of me that knows how much they resent me for not being able to speak Spanish. I am fully aware of how hard my family finds it for them to learn English, while I struggle to comprehend Spanish. My heart fills with joy every chance I get to visit Puerto Rico, but it also aches because my home will never feel like home until I learn my native language. Until I learn, I will always feel lost at home.