“Puedes hablar espagnol mijo ?”. “Mom! Grandma is talking and I do not know what she is saying !”. I was born in California to a mother of Mexican descent and a father of Salvadoran descent. Since I was not born in Mexico or El Salvador I never had to learn Spanish because the primary language of California is English so that is what I was taught. I do not know too much of my dad so I will focus on my mothers side of the family who were born in Mexico. No one in my immediate family had went to college let alone finish high school, so I was looked as the one who was smart in our family. My family never really taught me anything except my basic manners and everyday things I should know for my everyday life. While living with my mother we often lived in her mother’s home, my grandma. After while I stopped living with my mother in my grandmothers house and began living with my aunt a few hours away from San Diego where I lived most of my life. My grandmother moved with me there because she was not able to provide and take care of herself so I was in a home with her again which was awesome. My grandmother had taught me something that is very useful in the society I live in. If it were not for her I would not have learned it.
My grandmother passed away in August 31st in 2016 leaving me with a gift I slowly unwrapped over the years living with her. She may have not realized it, but she taught me how to speak Spanish. My mother knows how to speak Spanish because that was her first language, but she never spoke it to me or made an attempt to teach me. My grandmother was the only person in the house who did not no more than a few words in English. She only spoke Spanish, and was born in Mexico before moving to California. Before the endeavor to learn Spanish begun, I was already aware of basic words and phrases such as, “por favor” and “gracias”. These helped me out as I was a kid and was not obliged to speak anymore than what I was really needed to speak and or ask for. Due to my grandmothers older age, and necessity for help when she would need it, she began to ask me for help. For a long while I would ask an adult to help translate for me because none of the kids in the house knew either. The adults never took it into their interests to teach me or the other kids Spanish either. I was forced to learn if I wanted to be able to speak with my grandmother on a daily basis, which turned to be very fruitful in my life.
While living in San Diego, I would take trips to go to Mexico with my mother and grandmother. The origin of me learning Spanish began with the attempt to read street signs and billboards. I had no idea what they meant and struggled to pronounce what I was looking at. Fast forward a few years later when I was not in San Diego and I had a much better grip on reading, and understanding. My grandmother had needs such as taking her medicine, eating food, and other needs such as watching her novelas for her entertainment. She used to say “puedes a poner mi novela por favor?” and I would respond with “I don’t understand what you are telling me.” As years passed I grew much more confident in what I would hear when spoken to by her that it was almost second nature. I would not have to take anywhere near as long as process what I was told, but would now be able to respond saying “si abuela, dime que canal es?”. A morning ritual she had was to drink tea in the morning. Since she spent most of her days sitting on a chair because she struggled to walk, I was her go to help her with that when my aunt could not. She would like to have sugar in her cup of tea so I would ask “Cuantas cucharadas de azucar quieres?”, and she would respond with how much.
I had a strong relationship with my grandmother growing up so it hit me beyond hard when she passed away. Before she passed, we had spoken many times about the family and things she expects me to accomplish in my life. The one thing that stuck to me the most was how she was looking forward to my High School graduation. She kept telling me that she wants fund the money for my graduation party and I was looking forward to her seeing me walking down the field in my gown to receive my diploma. Unfortunately she was not around to see me graduate, but I still felt happy because I knew she looked forward to it. Knowing what she told me when we spoke made moments like that, that we wanted to happen feel like they actually did. If I never learned Spanish, I never would have known she wanted to attend my graduation.
Like I had said earlier, I did not have to learn Spanish. In highschool I might have learned it, but that was because it was mandatory if I was taking that class. Learning with my grandmother was subtle, it was never like a class at a school. If I were to say I was forced to learn it, would mean it was more than likely a negative thing, but it was not. Even today I still have some struggle to speak Spanish, but I am more than confident in my ability to read and understand it.
I am just one of the many people in the world who have learned to speak another language this way. It does not even have to be a language, just something that we can use in this life. Spanish was one of the many literacies I have acquired and will continue to acquire in my life. We all learn literacies from the people who have major impacts on our life, whether they bring a positive or even a negative one. My story is just one in a world where stories are constantly being created. I would not be writing it if I believed it was not an important one.