The Millions

Fighting to Write Between Two Languages

1.
Growing up, I developed my Spanish as a form of discipline. Spanish belonged at home, and English belonged at school. Only when my sister and I spoke did our bilingual conversation find itself walking in trepidation across the bridge we had built between us.

My mother, who emigrated from Mexico in 1965, speaks Spanish to me always, and to my children. She’s been here over five decades and her native tongue hasn’t been buried in assimilation.

I’m accustomed to thinking in the mother tongue, the language of my mother who would pound a fist over the dinner table and declare “Español!” when my sister and I were caught speaking English as girls. Speaking is altogether primal. It comes along like a necessary sweater in winter, easing the cold of error or misunderstanding or mispronunciation.

I don’t speak Spanish perfectly, this I know, however much my family (aunties and cousins living in Mexico) affirm that I speak it well, for an American. I can read it and understand it and express it colloquially. I don’t have a jarring American accent when I speak it, like those for whom Spanish is a second language, who are second

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