In the days after the Democratic National Convention and the gregarious keynote delivered by Julián Castro, the clamor of whether his inept fluency should allow him the Latino title, I have to admit, made me angry. Here was a man — a brown man, a rising star, a politician that could change the face of our nation’s inner workings — and the Latino public didn’t want him because he isn’t bilingual? Ay!
The idea of being 100% Hispanic by blood, yet isolated by the Latino population because of fluency, is not foreign to me. I am full-blooded Cuban, a first generation American, but in my family’s quest of economic growth and the American dream, bilingualism was put on the backburner. It seems that the Hispanic populace is having a hard time understanding that and, therefore, is quick to reject those of us with brown skin, Latino heritage, and a lacking command of the Spanish language. So where do we go? Where does the bicultural Latino find community and likeness in this country? How does a brown American identify, when white America acknowledges our differences and Hispanics hear them, too?
The ensuing press after Julián Castro’s speech shook my core deeply and caused a feeling of hurt and rejection I had long forgotten. The question of whether one is “Latino enough” by virtue of their fluency also reminded me why I raise my (true) bicultural and biracial children with as much Spanish exposure as possible. It seems that everyone is trying to strip our Latino from us. If, as a mom, I am paranoid that the world will refuse to acknowledge the Latino in my children, the part of them that is me, you can imagine the anger which resonated in the knowledge that even I have to fight for that identity. But I’m not an impressionable college student anymore; only I have the power to self identify. With maturity and experience comes a solidified understanding of one’s personal identity, and if I want my children to do the same, I must be fierce in my assertion: I am not fluent and I AM Latina enough.
While yes, I wholeheartedly believe that bilingual is better, for so many reasons, isolating the bicultural Latino is not the answer. For me and much of our community here at SpanglishBaby, creating a nation of bilingual citizens is a movement that goes so much deeper than simply becoming fluent in Spanish – it’s about creating a generation of tolerant, progressive and smarter world citizens. Accepting a person’s fluency, while providing resources, community engagement and encouragement to create a higher level of fluency, is the only way to truly create change. And, to be sure, change is upon us.
As more young Hispanic Americans are living a bicultural life, the old way of defining the Latino identity is on the verge of extinction. Isolating and rejecting their potential input to our community and political agenda does nothing for our cause. So, as a brown American Latina with what I would define as a lack-luster level of fluency, what I would like to say to Julián Castro is – Pa’ lante, fellow Latino! I’m proud of you!