Vital Voices & Vision: ¿Latin@s? ¡Presente!
Note for readers: As the community continues to navigate how we’d like to be addressed, you’ll see me use both Latinx and Latin@ to capture multiple genders and identities. Both are used throughout the community as well as the more frequently seen Latino, Latina, Latine and Hispanic. I personally try to navigate this with the inclusion of non-binary and transgendered folks, understanding that with time and reflection this will grow and change. For now, I try to use Latinx in general for the community and Latin@ if I’m addressing a noun that might typically be gendered. I understand that this is an ongoing conversation that also traverses generations and hope that while those decisions are discussed, we can focus on inclusivity and the topic at hand.
¿Yo? Bueno….no soy ni de aquí, ni de allá…
Translation: Me? Well..I’m neither from here, nor from there...
This common sentiment felt throughout no doubt countless immigrant communities, is one that especially resounds within the Latinx Community. This is felt so much so that “Ni De Aquí, Ni De Allá” is a commonly used expression.
In my research and life’s work, I break down this experience by addressing the language divide that exists in the Latinx community through theatre and storytelling. Although difficult to explain in one blog post, let me give you a taste:
If you are Latin@, read the following statements and see what mix of statements you are or if you can add another line.
If you do not identify as Latin@, read the statements and try to imagine the spectrum that is listed as well as the nuances that are not.
I identify as Latino, Latina, Latinx and…
- I am not comfortable speaking Spanish.
- I speak it, but am not sure if what is coming out of my mouth is well said. Depends on the moment..
- I “look the part", my name "sounds the part" but when someone addresses me in Spanish…uh oh…
- I do NOT "look the part" but have a strong tie and identify strongly with the Latinx culture.
- I look, sound, speak Spanish but the pull between my family culture vs USA culture is unreal. I wasn’t born in my family’s homeland and am frequently reminded that I wasn’t born there so I can’t identify as one of them.
- I’m from a Spanish speaking country/territory and I know I’ve got an accent. This affects people’s perception of me in multiple ways.
- I am white passing, no one believes I’m Latin@
- I am brown/olive complexion. People notice me right away and expect me to “act” Latin@.
- I am black and no one believes I’m Latin@.
- I just want to fit in with my family, with the culture, with the community.
Who am I really?
Where do I belong?
Can I claim this space?
Why didn’t my family teach me Spanish?
Why didn’t they correct me? I sound like I’m 5!
If I don’t speak Spanish perfectly or at all, does that make me less Latin@?
Language as a Journey
My personal life’s journey with language, culture and identity and fortunately, my research and work, have led to not only trying to answer these questions, but also making space for these vulnerable conversations to be had. A place where Latin@s of anywhere on the language spectrum can openly talk about how language can influence your acceptance into your family’s cultural spaces as well as your own judgement of your place there. How do we do this effectively?
Theatre. Storytelling. Lived experiences spoken out loud for others to hear and receive.
Acknowledging Our Roots
As Latin@s, our storytelling abilities and roots are Indigenous and African. They are part of our dinner table with far too many people crammed around it, of the laundromat with our hair up in curly pineapples or en rolos. They are part of us being left home with our Abuelas or Mami’s hearing story after story as the smell of the pernil asado and arroz con gandules permeates our hair and clothes so much so that when we go out, we take the scent with us.
Then the truth is that our language comes from Spain. For all the horror that it caused our people in the past, now that same language, influenced in stunningly specific ways by several Indigenous and African languages, is part of us. Now our families use Spanish or Spanglish to explain our very recent struggles or “La Brega” of our everyday. To 1st and 2nd generation Americans, the loss of Spanish can often symbolize a loss of culture, a loss of authentic storytelling and self-meaning. But does it have to?
Storytelling As a Means To Unite: ¡Looking Bilingüe!
My online series and storytelling project, ¡Looking Bilingüe! challenges that notion. With ¡Looking Bilingüe! I strive to change that rhetoric, to encourage Latin@s no matter what Spanish language level (or English!), to carry your culture proudly because you are that culture. You are the beautifully real result of your ancestors and their stories. What better way to honor them than by telling your story and your connection to those ancestors? Tell your story in whatever language or combination, even if filled with complex feelings, messages, the occasional mistake in conjugation: TELL YOUR STORY! Watch how many people identify with your experiences, watch how storytelling can continue to bring together this community of Latin@s, los de ni de aquí, ni de allá.
About the Author:
Jade Cintrón Báez is a Theatre and Language Educator that has specialized in teaching ESL through theatre, song & movement for the past eleven years, eight of which were in Barcelona, Spain. Inspired by personal experiences and struggles with cultural identity, Jade returned to the states to focus on the link between cultural identity and language education using the arts as a vehicle for understanding. She holds her Masters in Arts Administration from Drexel focusing on enhancing cultural awareness through theatre and language education. Jade has also presented “REAL TALK: #METOO & EDI in the ESL Classroom” at ELT conferences both stateside and abroad. She currently serves as the Bilingual Early Childhood Literacy Specialist for The Free Library of Philadelphia where she focuses on dual language learning using the arts and bilingual education in predominantly Latinx & Black daycares in North Philly. She is also the Founder and Artistic Director of "¡Looking Bilingüe!", a storytelling series on Youtube that focuses on Latinx empowerment and the celebration of biculturalism and bilingualism in the Latinx community.
Jade Cintrón Báez &¡Looking Bilingüe! Social Media
LinkedIn: Jade Cintrón Báez