Hablar o No Hablar?

My mother ordered a freezer to be delivered to my house this morning. I don’t really want a freezer since there isn’t room in our casita, but the reason my mother wanted us to have it is so that she can put food in it, y en todo honestidad, when someone offers us comida, we don’t turn it down.

Anyone with a blue collar job like my husband, particularly in any sort of construction-related industry, pueden decirte, the winter months are difficult. They cut hours at work and think nothing of sending everyone home for an entire week, (which is what we’re looking at end of December. A whole week without a pay check! Feliz Navidad, right?)

Ni modo, we always manage to survive. Some would say Padre Dios is looking out for us, others might say we’ve got hustle, a little suerte doesn’t hurt either – pero la pura neta es que, it’s all of those things – and we have good familia that care about us on top of it.

So anyway, the freezer – I told Carlos last night that it would be delivered and he says,
“Behave yourself.”
“What does that mean?”
“With the delivery guys. You know they’re going to be Latino.”
“Carlos! No sabes! Don’t stereotype.”
“I guarantee they’ll be Latino… behave…”

Typical Carlos. Siempre celoso! Well, the delivery time was between the hours of 9 am and 11 am, but I’ve had too many delivery men show up early, so I got ready early this morning. Sure enough, at 8:30 am, without even a phone call for warning, the doorbell rings. I open the door and there is the delivery guy … Latino, por supuesto, and looking sort of like Tito El Bambino.

Here’s the thing, Carlos knows, as shy as I am and even though he trusts me, I can be a flirt, and that’s why he told me to “behave”. So when the delivery guy asked me in a thick accent if he should use the back door or front door (not a euphemism! Don’t be malpensados!), I had to resist the urge to break out the Spanish. I knew that if I started speaking Spanish then the delivery would become less business-like and I would end up chatting, (even though one of the first things I tell people, by way of explanation for why I’m a Spanish-speaking gringa, is “Mi esposo es de El Salvador”.)

So the guy disappears back to the truck to get the freezer, and returns with his partner, (also Latino.) They bring the freezer in and he asks me where I want it, (again, not a euphemism!) …I tell him in halting English, (because the word “cocina” almost stumbled off my tongue), that the kitchen is fine. I sign my name on his clipboard, and I can tell he’s dying to ask me. He keeps looking me in the eye, curiously glancing around the house, (papel picado, a Virgin of Guadalupe vela, a wall hanging that says “Dios bendiga este hogar”, maracas hanging on a door knob, a game of Lotería on the bookshelf)…then he looks at my signature, (how I love the little accent over the ó in López!), smiles, and tells me to have a good day, while giving me a backward glance – one last chance to out myself, but I closed the door without speaking a word of Spanish.

So, you can tell Carlos, I “behaved”, but this got me thinking… Do any of you ever have difficulty deciding in which language to conduct yourself when among others who are bilingual? Sometimes when I meet someone I don’t know who begins speaking heavily accented English, and I can safely assume they are Latino – I’m not sure whether it’s an insult to switch to Spanish or not? (As if I’m implying their English isn’t good enough.) I’ve done it before, and people usually seem relieved, smile and open up so much more once they can speak their native language.

Pero, here’s the thing – when I’m speaking Spanish and the person I’m talking to responds in English, I become really annoyed. There’s this chica at one of the Latino markets, (una creída que me cae mal) who does this to me every pinche time. It looks like the most ridiculous thing in the world – me speaking Spanish, and her responding in English. It’s frustrating and I feel avergonzada in front of the other customers.

(This situation not to be confused with switching back and forth between English and Spanish with friends. That is part of a comfortable flow of conversation which I enjoy.)

Okay, what are your thoughts? Hablar o no hablar? That is the question…


  1. I believe you should have spoken to the delivery guys in spanish. Your husband was right when he assumed they were Latino. When we have deliveries in our home and they are Latino, We don’t hesitate, we speak and offer drinks and food, at the end we tip. As far as the girl at the store, creida, como tu dises (sorry my Spanish writing not as good as your, shame on me). She is denying her heritage, although everyone knows she’s Latina but her. I can’t stand people who deny or ignore their heritage because they pretend or want to be someone else…..You should of spoken…Next time ha?



    • @ Rudy – I would have spoken Spanish and offered coffee or something if my husband was home, but when I’m all alone I worry it wouldn’t look right. What do you think in that case?

      As for the girl at the Latino market – as a gringa who has a blog called “Latina-ish”, I don’t really want to judge anyone for how they identify or for ignoring their heritage LOL — my issue with her is she’s working at a Latino market where all her other clients speak Spanish and she speaks Spanish with them – but singles me out every time.

    • Tracy, thanks for leading me to this discussion. As you said, there are many reasons “to speak or not to speak.” Ramon (this laptop doesn’t let me put in the accents: boo!) also tells me to “behave.” I always like to say, “mi esposo es dominicano” and he cringes. He says I don’t need to advertise so much. Maybe he’s right in a way. When I try too hard, people are driven away.

      Or as you said in a previous discussion, the bilingual Latinos/as like to show their dual proficiency as well and use English. The advice you gave not to take perceived rejection personally is also helpful. The Latino community has enough issues of their own (non-Spanish speakers being judged, covert discrimination) and they don’t need mine on top of everything else. A friend in her 50s has told me stories of being shushed by her father while speaking Spanish in public on a street in Brooklyn, as if it were something shameful.

      Maybe I should take Ramon’s (with the accented o) advice and take it easy. He’s tired of listening to my incessant complaints, so I have the Latina at Heart bloguera to thank for helping!

      • Embrace the good, y tira the malo, amiga. That’s the right attitude!

        And I’m telling you – this comunidad Latina online, it’s full of good. Glad you found us :)

  2. Cute! Good job behaving yourself, lol.

    For me its complicated. I speak Urdu (more universal Pakistani language) and Punjabi way more fluently (less universal- regional) and its trendy to speak Urdu versus Punjabi and Punjabi as a language is almost being phased out (a post of my own soon I’m sure) because of people’s shame in the language (its more rural). Anyways- its weir to be in a group of women who all are Punjabi- who can all speak it but are speaking Urdu- its harder for me to speak it and I know they all speak it but- I stick with Urdu because its the set norm now.

    I think the more you can use your spanish the more you should use it. Before-Waleed in such circumstances I would resort to English- less exhausting- but now I make an effort to speak either language because it can only help improve my skills since English is my native tongue- and that way I can get better and better.

    It can be awkward and I do not judge people who choose English though they speak other languages- they likely have their reasons.

    • @ Aisha – That sounds infinitely more complicated! … It’s funny how having a child makes us grasp at our second language though. Suddenly it all becomes so much more important. They say that a second language in the family is usually gone by the third generation, I believe – so since your parents were the native speakers, and you the second generation – in most cases, Waleed would not be bilingual — So good for you for not letting him lose that connection. It’s one of the most amazing gifts you can give him.

      I sometimes wonder if my boys will speak sufficient Spanish once they’re grown, and if my future grandchildren will know anything of their grandfather’s (Carlos) culture and language.

  3. Maybe la “bicha creída” cree que hablarte en Inglés es más apropiado siendo tu una cliente “gringa”.
    Yo le sigo la corriente a la gente! Aquí en los “yuesai” hay de todo: si me hablan en español, contesto en español; si lo hacen in inglés, pues así contesto. Ya ni me inmuto; al principio si me molestaba un poco, ya no! Y con respecto a ese freezer nuevo…que muestra de cariño y solidaridad de parte de tu familia! Lucky girl :)

    • @ Claudia, sí, entiendo que a veces la gente no me hablan en inglés sólo p’joderme – al contrario, es que están tratando de ser amables — pero me choca que esa mujer bien sabe que hablo suficiente español, y sigue con el inglés. LOL… A ver…

      (Y sí, bien lucky estoy.)

    • A freezer full of love and food :) Sí, es muy especial… the only problem is that it’s so wide I can’t open the refrigerator all the way now. LOL. En serio, I can’t complain. I’m very thankful. This is better than starving.

  4. Ok Tracy, I see your point on being alone in the house and not offering coffee or food (I hope you tipped). But worrying about not looking right, come on, what difference would it had made if you spoke Spanish or English? I mean, I don’t understand the meaning of looking right. Are you assuming (and I’m not being rude or accusatory) that if you would of spoken in Spanish, they might have made a move on you? I mean you’re a woman, English or not, if they want to make a move (or a pass, however you call it) they would have done it regardless. As far as the girl at the market, yes you’re right, I shouldn’t judge people on how they identify themselves. At least you identify yourself for what you are and the heritage you enjoy being with, you are not hipocritical.

    • @ Rudy – No, no. I don’t think speaking Spanish to them would have been inappropriate, and I don’t think that would have been inviting anything inappropriate – but here’s the thing… If I’m speaking English, they expect me to act like a gringa. They expect to deliver the freezer and go. There is no expectation of me offering coffee and sitting down to chat, etc… But if I speak Spanish and don’t offer coffee and invite them to sit for awhile, I would feel rude because then the expectation would be there, (but without Carlos home, I would feel uncomfortable asking them to sit and have a cup of coffee since I know Carlos wouldn’t like that.)

      So complicated, but I hope that makes sense?

      As for them “making a move” – I welcome piropos out on the street – they make me smile, but inside my house would make it totally different. Ni modo, they were very professional. I was more worried about myself saying something inappropriate. I told you, the guy looked like Tito El Bambino. LOL.

      Oh – and I’ve heard it’s against company policy for the delivery people to accept tips – I don’t know if this is true, but even if they were allowed to, I never have cash. (My mother is giving me a freezer to put free food in, remember? I’m poor. LOL.)

  5. I have so many issues with this!! I also get annoyed when someone answers me in English when I speak Spanish to them… and sometimes I feel like people feel “pena” or offended when I talk to them in Spanish. My first job was as a cashier at a Latino market, I spoke Spanish 99% of the time because, well, todos los clientes eran latinos!! Pero, sometimes they would answer me in English.. even though they had the thickest accent ever and were struggling to speak English. One time this señor told me “I speak English ok?” but he was talking to his wife en español de whole time and to be honest, his English wasn’t really good!

    Español o no Español? He ahí el dilema!

  6. i KNOW EXACTLY HOW YOU FEEL!!!!! I just recently started using my spanish in the last 5 years because it was more of an embarressment as a child being in Wyoming at that time there wasn’t many latinos where i lived. Now i think people think my boyfriend and I are gringos cause we went through school and perfer to speak english when we go to markets like you talk about i always try to use spanish (mostly we are trying for our son) bt they always answer in english and it pisses me off.

    • Okay, I don’t feel so bad if people do this to you, too. LOL… I usually just keep going with the Spanish though, no matter how ridiculous it looks. jijiji

  7. @carlitarocks: Oh boy, where do i start? I speak both English and Spanish fluently and I still get the same as you Tracy. “La gringa creída” and the same for Latinas! You know when someone is doing it to annoy you and assume they are better than you. Next time, just ask, be straight-forward. If you do it in a diplomatic and respectful manner, you may cause her to think and reflect on her actions providing an opportunity for positive change and dialogue.

    As for the delivery men, I wouldn’t have offered anything to them either, not as a woman alone in the house. In those situations, I think it’s best to stay neutral and to the point.

  8. Hablar, siempre. I am a terrible code-switcher, so if one language isn’t working I’ll slide right into the other. And it doesn’t always even register what language the other person is speaking, since I think and speak both. You must be far more conscientious than me!

    The same thing happens to me at one tianguis by my house. The cajera always speaks hard-to-comprehend english to me, even though I charlar with everyone solo en espanol. I guess the stereotyping cuts both ways; I assume that she would prefer spanish, while she assumes that I prefer ingles, probably because of my ethnically ambiguous looks. I try to think of it in a positive fashion and assume she wants to practice her english!

    • I wouldn’t say I’m more “conscientious” – but I’m almost always aware of which language I’m speaking except for the occasional slip up – And I actually love the slip ups because if I’m speaking without effort, if my brain is changing gears without me consciously doing it, that’s a positive thing in terms of how my fluency is coming along.

      I think that the fact that you are not consciously aware of which language you’re speaking probably could be attributed to your much higher level of fluency. I envy that and aspire to it!

      As for looking on the positive side of the situation – I’m usually similarly-minded, but I’m pretty sure this chick is doing it to be obnoxious. Ni modo, it’s a petty thing to get worked up about I suppose!

  9. About the clerk. Maybe it is their store policy to serve in English? She could be protecting her job, or maybe so the English boss or coworkers don’t feel left out of the conversation? I have to admit, I somtimes find it MILDLY rude when someone is speaking something I don’t understand when in public… like they are trying to be sneaky or something. (Different when they are obviously family though.) …why is that? Maybe because my mom always taught me it was rude to whisper? I don’t know.

    • @ pol – There aren’t any English speaking people in the store – not customers, co-workers or owners. LOL. It’s a Latino market and in fact, the girl at the register is one of the owners, so she’s not worried about losing a job! LOL. She speaks to everyone in Spanish except for me.

      Anyway, as for speaking non-English in public, well, we have no national language, (Canada doesn’t either, do they?) … I can understand how it might make you uncomfortable or paranoid, but usually people are just speaking what is comfortable for their family and it has nothing to do with you – so no reason to be offended.

      • Wow, that is very strange indeed that the lady wouldn’t speak Spanish with you… not sure how I’d react to that!

        Canada has 2 national languages… English and French. Even though we all HAVE to have French in school as a class, it never stuck with me and I found it much harder than any other subject. I can read it well enough, but can’t write or speak it beyond “Bonjour” and “Merci”.

        I know I’m being silly about the other languages… I’m just too nosy for my own good (wink).

      • pol – LOL, I understand the nosiness! I won’t pretend that I don’t tune in other people’s conversations in public. It can be very interesting!

  10. Oh Tracy, I’m so glad you blogged about this! There is a cute little Colombian restaurant that I found. I was so excited…I became a regular and tried to be friendly with the owner (who is also the cashier). But everytime I would speak Spanish to her, she would answer me in English. I was infuriated and embarrassed. This happened time and time again. She spoke Spanish to everyone else! Even though the food was great, I stopped going. Yes, it bothered me THAT much.

    • Hoping you find an even better Colombian restaurant where they speak Spanish to you. LOL… So weird how we have such similar experiences!

  11. Oh, this is funny :-)

    I know what you mean about being stumped over whether to switch to a different language or not. I’m Chinese, and can speak Mandarin fairly fluently. Because my family has known many other Chinese people in our town in LA, I usually go to these places for groceries, eating out, and such. I’m always stumped whenever I decide whether to use English or not – they can all tell that I’m not “fresh off the boat”. I try using Chinese sometimes so that I don’t seem like an arrogant, spoiled Americanized brat who didn’t care enough to learn my own language, but on the other hand, some of them do respond to me in English instead of entertaining my initiative to converse in Mandarin, as though it’s another to “put me in my place”. It’s hard to win with people when they’ve already made up their minds! :-P

    • Ha! So true! … Funny how this seems like a universal issue for bilingual people of various communities/backgrounds.

  12. So glad you blogged about this – I run into this dilemma all the time!!!!! I am Latina-ish – appearance is Anglo, perhaps Spaniard on a good day, and my fluent Spanish obviously learned in Mexico does not compute for most. So . . . . I go back and forth. Sometimes, particularly if I’m in a hurry or I want to keep it businesslike I just stick to English. At Latin restaurants I try to gage which would be easier and usually end up switching to Spanish but you’re absolutely right – some people just insist on transacting business in English, even though it is painfully apparent it would go smoother in Spanish. You would think when I am out with my husband of Mexican descent, things would be easier, but since he gets taken for Filipino and Japanese due to his features, I think half the time he just confuses the situation even more, fluent Spanish and all! There are some moms at my son’s school who just stare at me when I speak to other moms in Spanish, who apparently don’t have the same hang-ups about my background. Oh, well! So, as for your question, hablar o no hablar, mi respuesta es “depende”!

    • Laura, “depende” is the answer, I think. LOL. So much for hard and fast rules.

      That’s funny that your husband gets mistaken for Filipino and Japanese – my husband, too! One time we were at a McDonald’s and there was a Chinese guy in line in front of us trying to order but his English was awful. He turned around and saw my husband – he got really excited and started asking him to help translate. (So he was mistaken for Chinese by an actual Chinese person!)

      And then when we went to my son’s school for lunch (he was “student of the week”), one of his classmates asked my husband if he was Chinese. LOL. I actually blogged about that: https://latinaish.com/2010/01/22/chino/

  13. I feel you. This is what I do: If I’m in a hurry, or not likely to see this person ever again = English, and if I will, and Spanish would be easier, Spanish. I look VERY white, so nobody ever assumes I can speak Spanish so sometimes I will continue in English with them, but speak in fluent Spanish (loudly,lol) with my kids. Then the choice is theirs, as they realize I speak Spanish. The younger the cashier/etc. is, usually the less they care. P.S. I have never tipped a delivery person in my life, but I always offer a bottle of water or coke. And I disagree with Rudy, I always get hit on more by a Latino if they hear me speak Spanish, as if I’m flirting, or somehow more available, if I speak their language. So there have been plenty of times I have purposely not spoken/spoken Spanish, depending on my mood, lol. Que mala, no?? Hahaha!

    • @ humincat – I actually do agree with the “more available” aspect of revealing you speak Spanish. When I first met Carlos, how his eyes lit up when I first spoke Spanish! LOL.

      If a guy is really confident/assertive/aggressive — a language barrier won’t deter him, as Rudy said — But for guys who are more shy/polite/unsure of themselves, etc – speaking their native language sort of opens the door for them. Also, it reveals a commonality or shared interest, which is always a conversation starter in any language.

  14. I do think people are a lot more conscientious about what language they are speaking here in the dc area, although I really don’t think about it much (I speak both English and Spanish at the Panam supermarket, depending on my mood). I grew up in South Texas, and my husband in South Florida (and we were just talking about your blog post) and I think in both places our conversations flow between English and Spanish pretty mindlessly, even if you are stronger in one language than another.

    And who says you don’t pass as Latina??? I’ve never met you but Latinas pretty much come in every shape, color and size so somewhere in America Latina I’m sure you’ve got a twin :)

    • @ Cynthia – You’re absolutely right that Latinas come in all shapes/colors/sizes, etc – but I’m not *stereotypically* Latina-looking, (i.e. what some people *expect* a Latina to look like.) That being said, I have had a few Salvadorans stare at me and then explain that I look exactly like a girl they know back in Chalatenango. So, you’re right – I’ve got at least one Latina “twin” out there, maybe more :)

      BTW – If you’re curious, my photo is on my Twitter profile: http://twitter.com/latinaish

  15. @Tracy – My Mexican-American husband has also been taken for Chinese by an actual Chinese person! In our situation, I was inside a bookstore (as usual) in Chinatown making a purchase and he was standing outside waiting for me when a Chinese man approached him speaking Mandarin -my husband was like, “Uh, English . . . Spanish?” and the man said a few harsh words (at least he could tell that from the tone) and took off. We had a good laugh saying he probably went home to his family to complain about how these later generations don’t keep up the language once they’re here! (I like your blog about the comments your husband has received!)

    My son is fair complexioned and light haired (again, not what people expect a Latino child to look like, although very typical for my husband’s family where many have light eyes and/or fair skin) yet a fluent Spanish speaker so he’ll have to figure out how to navigate the whole language dance as well. And with my daughter everyone wants to speak to her in Spanish (more traditional appearance) and unless she hears me speak to them in Spanish (clue for her language-wise) she just looks at them and then responds in English.

    • Your son’s world is my world.

      I’ve had so many funny scenarios unfold in front of me, it is beyond hilarious.

      My favorite was me trying to convince a guy at a Salvadoran restaurant that I was Salvadoran too. Somewhere in the exchange I said something to him in Spanish with a strong Salvadoran accent and that finally convinced him. LOL

      My other fav was me at a wedding. I am sitting at the end of a row of about 10 people, all Spanish speakers as well. The bride’s father is walking around asking people if they want coffee and eventually gets to my area. He starts at the opposite end of the row from where I am..

      Cafe?..and so on, guest by guest

      Gets to me: coffee?


      • I can not tell you how much I love the “Cafe, cafe, cafe, coffee” story. LOL. I can envision it so clearly and it is just such a simple and perfect representation of what it feels like to be treated as “other”.

        My youngest son is chele, too. He’s going to face some of this… I can imagine someone saying, “Eres guanaco? …Naaah! N’hombre. No lo creo!” and my son will wave the person off indifferently saying “A la puchica, y qué me importa si crees o no?” — then they will BELIEVE. lol

      • LOL…quite true..

        To your point about being treated as “other,” that’s pretty much been my entire life. Sometimes it is comical (like the coffee thing), other times not so much.

        That’s part of the reason why I love going to El Salvador. People’s first assumption isn’t that I am not Salvadoran or Latino. I am actually considered part of the “mara” over there, even though many people pick up on the fact that I am not a local.

  16. I loved this post…I almost emailed you with this same question about a week ago! Sometimes if I’m in a store and hear people talking Spanish, I wonder if I need to somehow make it known that I speak Spanish…because if I wait too long, and it comes up later, it seems like I’ve been evesdropping on their whole conversation….which I probably was, but more than likely, I only understood half of it anyway.

    I’ve gotten more brave about speaking Spanish in public… to native Spanish speakers, especially in front of my kids, since I want them to be comfortable speaking spanish, too. But I still think about it before I take the leap and start up a conversation.

    In Bolivia, I had some people talk to me in English before, but I think they were trying to practice their English on me. I just kept right on speaking in Spanish.

    • Susan – you point out another situation — if I’m in a store and in the same aisle as a family speaking Spanish, I feel badly if I don’t somehow make them aware that I speak Spanish, too – in case they start talking about private things, assuming no one can understand them.

      Of course, this is a lesson to everyone (Spanish speaking, English speaking or otherwise!), never assume that the people in your vicinity don’t understand the language you’re speaking just by looking at them! … Suegra is really bad about making fun of gringos when we’re out in public. We’ve warned her that one of these days, a Spanish-speaking gringa is going to turn around and give her a well-deserved slap! LOL

      • About “gringo” jokes: every time we watch the news (Telemundo or Univision) and something comes on about anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-immigration laws, my husband always exclaims, “Oh, esos malditos gringos!” Then he says, “No tu, porque eres latina!” (Not you, because you’re Latina). Or I’ll be in an all-Latino gathering and someone makes a remark about “those gringos” then looks at me and says, “I forgot you were a gringa!”

        Sometimes laughter really is the best medicine.

  17. “una creida que me cae mal” <– ROFLMAO

    I know exactly what you mean when you state that you don't want to offend people by making them think that their English isn't good enough. I am very much the same way.

    The main reason why people are shy about learning new languages is because they fear people will mock them. I don't like to contribute to that fear, but instead, help.

    On that note, here is how I deal with similar scenarios: whenever I encounter someone that works a job serving the public, I always speak to them in English and English only. My reasoning is actually rather simple in that I feel it is a disservice to them to not help them learn the language and I hate hearing ignorant people make comments that insult them because they are not fluent.

    Obviously, there are exceptions to every rule and if I notice the person is completely lost, I'll repeat in Spanish (if appropriate).

    I am not sure how I made that my standard operating procedure for such scenarios, but I did. I never really thought about it, but when I finally did, I realized there was more value to the person in me speaking to them in English.

    As a comedic side note, years ago I was at the neighborhood convenience store looking for Doritos. The place was owned by a Korean family, but the vast majority of customers and employees spoke Spanish. Anyway, I couldn't find the Doritos, so I ask the Korean guy if he had any. He looks at me like I just asked him to explain the theory of relativity. I ask him again. Same response. On the third occasion, I ask him in Spanish — and he points me to the appropriate aisle. LOL

    • Very good point that allowing them to practice their English is a good thing for them.

      As for your Korean market – OMG, we have a Korean Market on the outskirts of D.C. where I make regular visits. (I love Korean food and got Carlos hooked on it too.)… Well, almost all the people that work there are Latino. It’s hilarious because one time at the fish counter, (Suegra likes fresh fish – like with eyeballs and stuff still LOL), Suegra told me what she wanted, I turned to the fish counter manager who was Korean. I greeted him in Korean and then told him Suegra’s order in English. He turned to the guys behind him in told them the order in Spanish. I was like, “Wait a minute! Suegra should have just ordered herself?!” … lol

      Also, I’ve heard some of the Latinos there respond to the manager in Korean. It’s pretty cool!

  18. Oh my gosh, this happens to me all the time. When you come up with a final answer, please let me know. ;-) A lot of Spanish speaking people will talk to my esposo in English and be super surprised when he speaks in English. We both struggle with this all the time. It’s funny.

  19. hey there! como estas first of all i totally agree with you how annoying it is when you want to talk in spanish but the other person refuses i have a cousin like that my dad says he feels like if shes too good to talk in spanish, an bout the changing ur language i feel like sometimes i should to make it easier for the person speakin to me but ive met some people that no matter if theyre strugglin they will keep talkin english, an alot of people when they meet me they think im a white girl or that i dont speak spanish! but i do! haha soy de Matamoros Tamaulipas! i guess bcus im a light skinned latina! idk but sometimes it annoyes me that people think i dont speak spanish!

  20. LOL! Love your story, I was reading and reading to see if you spoke spanish to the guy! I sometimes think what language to speak but it’s not really that big deal. Sometimes I love to speak english and they still think don’t know I understand spanish so I can maybe hear things I’m not supposed to ;)

  21. It is a really sensitive issue, the thing about when to speak Spanish…I have a hunch why that lady at the supermarket doesn’t wanna talk to you in Spanish. She senses some kind of white entitlement that a white chick is talking to her in Spanish. Like, she wants to be the one to choose and take the decision of how she communicates to deflect the privilege you feel to choose. I know you don’t have bad intentions and I think it is great that you love Spanish language and Latino culture and all—but I do know that some people of color feel patronized by the passion which white people who have learned foreign languages have for their languages/cultures because of the entitlement and privilege involved in choosing to get interested in a culture and find it ‘so fascinating.’ They feel objectified or fetishized.

    I hope that isn’t offensive…I have found myself in the same boat before, I am also multilingual and white, my story is a bit more complicated than yours cuz I am a Muslim, my husband is from Pakistan and I have learned Urdu and speak that language with my kids (I have gone thru your blog a bit and seen u speak Spanish with your “cipotes” which is awesome! :D). I have spoken Spanish since I was a girl as I grew up surrounded by a Mexican American and Mexican community in my hometown in Texas. Anyway, I have also always been interested in other cultures and have found myself in an interracial and intercultural marriage.

    It enriches life but is also deeply complicated.

    • I’m not offended at all – In fact, I’m glad you commented because this is a truly valid perspective which no one else mentioned.

      A whole book could be written on this point alone, (and has been.) … “White entitlement” and “white guilt” are two things I always fear being labeled with since I find both extremes unpalatable in their own ways – but I have to accept that to people who don’t know me, I may first and foremost be a “white person”, and that their own personal histories and what they’ve faced in life have shaped their minds and hearts which may in turn affect how they perceive me and my intentions.

      Thanks for the thought provoking comment.

      • I have been reflecting on the “white privilege/entitlement” for a while and am glad it was brought up by Luckyfatima. Even though we don’t have bad intentions (I include myself along with Tracy and many others), some people might indeed feel patronized by the “white chick” because of the power she has to choose another culture. I never considered that until very recently. I know I can add as many cultures as I want, while some people have suffered discrimination because of the culture they were born into.

  22. I have to say as a Spanish-speaking “gringa” I liked this post and all its comments. It does seem to be a good one for your “most controversial!” I find that when I’m around people who know I speak Spanish (friends) or where I’m expected to speak Spanish (at work), it’s so easy to speak Spanish, English, or spanglish, whatever. But when I’m in the community or, like in your instance, dealing with services or deliveries, I feel more avergonzada. I go to the grocery store that is more populated with Spanish-speakers on purpose and yet many times never speak Spanish!
    Usually people assume I speak English so I answer in English, though there’ve been times when we’ve noticed that there seems to be a barrier and my husband (English only) is like, just speak Spanish! We asked one of my friends where to get some amazing pupusas, and we went to this Salvadoran restaurant for the first time at her suggestion. After the waitress took our drink orders (water, we said), we looked around and I was like, “Hm, you think I should speak in Spanish?” and my husband said, “Yes.” So when she brought out bottled water (because we’re gringos??) I was like, “Oh, agua en vaso esta bien.” It definitely didn’t bother her that I spoke in Spanish, since I was able to clarify and order what we wanted!
    Another time we were buying some granite for our bathroom remodeling job and we could tell that something was being lost in translation, so I switched to Spanish. He seemed relieved, like the mesera at the restaurant. Surprised, because I am so juera, but also relieved.

  23. I’m learning more and more about you poking around your blog, amiga. I wish we lived closer! Your story is funny. It would’ve been awesome to catch on video the lightbulb going off in the guy’s head. *LOL* with all the “markers” hanging around your house. Hello. ; D

    Lately, I’ve been “hablando” more. That wasn’t always the case, only with mi familia y una buena amiga del distrito que sabe que necessito practicar (mucho). HOWEVER, whenever I’ve found myself in a situation with men being disrespectful, you know, speaking cochinadas, I out myself. Always with the same resultado: they look at me como que soy medusa, or something. I mean really … no me veo mexicana?!

    • LOL – you’re an undercover mexicana apparently ;) … Those guys shouldn’t look surprised and shouldn’t assume you aren’t – their fault. They should know better that Mexicans and Latinos in general can look like anything! …Good for you for teaching them a lesson. lol

      Wish we lived closer too – then we could practicar el español together :)

  24. I am reviving this. LOL. Remember, I started reading your blog recently. It’s funny but I have learned to spot which language to use. I don’t know how I do it but it works. I can tell who appreciates me using Spanish and who thinks I am insulting them. Remember my English is fine. So other people think I am looking down on them while pretending to be gringo. Si la ignorancia but you can’t really fight it. This happens all the time. People will even give me dirty looks at time and I am Latino. LOL.

    I know this was a post based on a “white” speaking Spanish to other Latinos, but in reality, this is an issue for us as well.

    • Revive all the old posts you want, Marlon :) I like comments anyway I can get them.

      You’re right that this isn’t just an issue for a gringa speaking Spanish — This is really a problem of bilingual people across all races/cultures.

      I wish I had your “radar” so I wouldn’t have to struggle to figure out what to do in these situations!

  25. I liked this post a lot (and not only because it’s keeping me from early morning dish washing). I loved the comments even more. This definitely happens within the Latino community too, especially if you are “white” looking or “too dark” (Black looking) or Asian looking or anything that doesn’t fit stereotypes looking or if you didn’t learn Spanish as a kid in your household (like me). It sucks royally.

    Then someone mentioned white privilege which is definitely an issue- my BF’s family is varying degrees of racist and the worst of the lot definitely accepts white people who “want to be PR” before any others- including Afro-PRs- ISSUES. On the other hand, I just came back from Cuba (first time with a study abroad program) and I kid you not (I am usually really open- do as you will so long as it hurts no other type of person but) I wanted to slap this girl silly. She adopted Cuban culture (I am Cuban) and decided to teach everyone how much she knew and how wrong everyone- including the Cubans- were in the face of her infinite knowledge based on her interest. The girl was obnoxious! (I will say she speaks Spanish well and she does know a lot- but she was wrong about a lot and she confused her opinion for fact and who the hell wants some chick telling you she knows/feels/loves/ your culture more than you- as though it is a competition and there is only a finite amount of culture to go around). Now that is not everyone and after reading a bazillion of your posts (and avoiding all my cleaning in the process :D) I know that’s not you, but after dealing with her I can see myself going anti-social for a while.

    And finally I’ve been through it too. I’ve had people just start speaking Spanish to me (which I’m cool with) and people who obviously snub me and it’s based on their perception of what I look like and who they feel I am or should be. Their issue, I just happen to have to deal with it. I used to feel angry, hurt, and so many other emotions, but now I don’t care- they don’t change, enhance, or take away from who I am and if ignorance and stereotypes are how they build their identity- they can keep it. That’s not my Latinidad.

    • I’m sorry to hear about your BF’s family, (as if normal in-law problems aren’t enough!)

      As for the girl who adopted Cuban culture – I can see how that would be annoying, to put it mildly. She may just have a “know-it-all” personality in general. Maybe she channels her insecurity about “belonging” into this kind of behavior. It’s unfortunate for her because she has probably made a lot of people angry or uncomfortable. I hope she didn’t spoil your trip to Cuba. (Would love to see photos!)

      I appreciate that you recognize I don’t present myself as some kind of authority on Latin American culture – I just share what I love, (and actually, I ask a lot of questions, as I did here with this post. I love the conversation that happens here in comments since I feel it’s a great opportunity for everyone to learn something new – including myself!) … I’m sorry to have interrupted your cleaning schedule but thanks for reading my blog :)

      “That’s not my Latinidad” – I love that. It would make a great slogan for a campaign about identity issues and stereotypes.

  26. lol thanks for the reply- and no apologies necessary, I’m always looking to interrupt housework (I’m domestically challenged), but since my BF works 3rd shift and is always tired I’m trying to help out a wee bit more. NO ONE could ruin Cuba for me- I waited my whole life for that trip- I have some pics in my blog, some on Facebook, and I have others (plus video I need to sort) that I want to post somewhere else (Flikr, Picasa- not sure yet) that I still have to post. My blog is/was pacuba.blogger.com and the photos are spread out in different blogs (awful quality because they all came from my iPod- I used the app to blog from Cuba). My Facebook is http://www.facebook.com/a.alveranga

    As for the girl- I didn’t let her bother me beyond 2 experiences where both times I simply walked away from her- the problem was I didn’t know anyone on the trip (I go to a different University), but I went for Cuba so it was awesome for me :D.

    • Found you (I think), at pacuba.blogspot.com – Looks like you were there for a long time and had time to meet family, that’s awesome.

  27. Oh boy! Oh Boy! Oh boy!!! Where do I begging with here?
    I have been in both ends of the problem! Americans not wanted to talk to me because they assume I do not speak English, without even giving me an opportunity! Latinos not speaking Spanish but English! My biggest problem is that when speaking Spanish to others, I have to include my American husband and translate everything or he feels excluded and it just takes soooo much effort n work, and then there come those who rudely ask me why my husband doesn’t speak Spanish at all. (We have been together for 5 years but I gave up in teaching him my language or I would have murder him long time ago). And then my kids! One who speaks Spanish pretty well and can carry out a conversation in fairly decent Salvadorian! The other refused to speak Spanish while growing up and only rediscovered her roots when we moved to this little town, where speaking another language was the top of coolness! So now when we talk, is hard for me to communicate in Spanish with her unless I make a conscious effort to do so, but it hurts me to hear her killing the words and not upset her when correcting her! (I’m not perfect!).
    Now she is been told that she sounds like a mexicana fodonga! but we have all kinds of fun speaking and rediscovering our language.
    A funny thing – When translating for my husband, he thinks I’m cheating because it takes longer or more words to say something in spanish, than to give him the english version. He is always…”Is that all? they said more than that!”

    • No entiendo amiga. Estás preguntando me si tienes que dar el comentario también en español? Si estás preguntado eso, claro que no. LOL… Acepto comentarios en inglés, español, Spanglish o lo que sea! :)

  28. Yes Tracy, I was asking if I should put my comment in spanish too! Que gueva!, tener q escribir todo eso en español tambien!!! this bilingual business is too hard!

    • LOL – no! Imaginate! I’d die of exhaustion if I had to make all my comments bilingual jajaja … I figure that if someone doesn’t speak either language and wants to know the gist of something, (whether it be a post or a comment), they’ll use an online translator. Those don’t always translate well, but I’m not going to force myself or anyone else to write bilingually full time LOL

  29. I so have this problem where I live (portland oregon area). I went to a taco store and they dont talk to me in spanish. Where im from the taco stores, pedidos are always done in spanish.

    I go here and they dont even talk to me in spanish I feel sooo wierd I just want to die. I never want to go back.

    Sometimes when I go the girl doesnt understand my order in english, so I have to explain it to her in spanish.

  30. They speak to you in English for the same reason you want to speak to them in their language out of respect. I get weird and bashful looks sometimes from the Spanishs speakers I see at the pool because deep down they are probably embrassed that they don´t know English. And I feel the same because I don´t what language to approach them in. I tried speaking in Spanish to one of them, and she got quiet probably because I made a mistake. However, on the postive side. When I was at recent conversation group meeting in a restaurant. A Spanish speaking waiter took our orders in Spanish. That´ surprised me.

  31. I dont know why I do this, but I avoid speaking spanish at all costs. My spanish is terrible, and I dont feel comfortable speaking to anyone in spanish besides my grandmother and perhaps my future mother-in-law because they dont speak english! If there is someone bilingual, I always speak in english because why am I going to embarass myself if I dont have to? It really offends me when people who can speak english decide to speak in spanish in front of me. It makes me feel like they dont respect me as a person. There is no need to feel offended that the chick at the store answers you in english. If its a young chick and she can clearly see you speak and understand english, she wants to speak to you in english because she probably gets the feeling that she is communicating better with you (and you probably agree that you can comprehend english much better). Also she doesnt feel the “cultural connection” with you. Personally I get offended when caucasions try to address me in spanish. Do I look like I dont speak english? Its kind of racist if you think about it, cause you are going by how someone looks whether to speak to them in spanish or not. Latinos do it all the time as well.

    • Chuki, thanks for your honest thoughts.

      I agree that deciding whether to talk to someone solely based on the way they look is not the right thing to do — but in my defense, the cashier is in a Latino Market and I hear her speaking fluent Spanish to other customers, so it isn’t just a random person in public that I assumed speaks Spanish because of the color of her skin or the features of her face. This would not be an accurate way to do things since I, like you probably do as well, know many Latinos who are monolingual English, having been born and raised here in the US … and I know many Latinos who don’t look stereotypically Latino but are native Spanish speakers.

      You can’t tell what languages a person speaks just by looking at them. I would be more likely to switch to Spanish when I hear a non-native accent in their English, which I recognize as being that of a native Spanish-speaker, and if they seem uncomfortable in English or seem to be struggling.

      As for you avoiding speaking Spanish – if that’s not the language you’re most comfortable in, that’s understandable. Unfortunately, Latinos can be pretty harshly judged by other Latinos if they aren’t fluent in Spanish. I wrote an article about that on New Latina here: http://newlatina.net/non-fluent-latinas-dont-judge-us/

  32. oh just a side note about feeling bad that you are near a family who is speaking spanish and they assume that you dont understand that. Why on earth would you feel bad? they are the ones talking chisme or private stuff, and its their own ignorance at work there. If they dont want anyone to know about it, they shouldnt be speaking in public. No reason to “out yourself”. Really, what are you going to say ? “Yo hablo espanol, y yo entiendo todo los chismes que estan hablando, maybe you shouldnt be talking”. Really? At the supermarket to people you dont know? come on now. Just listen and wait for them to say something about you, THEN is the time to out yourself. To be honest if I was speaking spanish to someone about personal things and somebody, latino or caucasion, commented, I would tell them to mind their own business.

  33. I have similar problems with the conversation situation. I am learning Spanish at the moment and living in Madrid. Often I will ask for something or ask a question, and people realise I’m an English speaker and then reply in English to me. I am then, damn, what to I do now, just carry on regardless?! Sometimes I feel it is their lack of toleration of learners, but other times maybe they are just eager to practice English! I also struggle to practice with people who are Spanish (my friends), but who have known me before I really begun to learn Spanish. I feel very self-conscious, and don’t know why!

  34. Hi Tracy, this post inspired me to write a post about my own experiences with the Spanish language. I have made one reference to your blog and this post. I hope you don’t mind? Take a look if you want, and if you are not happy I will remove the mention of you from my post. Many thanks, Bex.

    • Hi amiga, just tried to check it out but wordpress is saying it’s no longer available?

      In regards to if I mind – not at all! Especially when people remember blogging etiquette such as linking back/giving a “hat tip” to anyone who has inspired a particular post :) Thanks so much for doing that.

      • Hola, thanks for the reply! I have no clue as to why that has occurred, maybe as i have only just put the article on there? I hope that is the reason anyway!

        Thanks for the OK of use of info. I am happy if your are happy with it! No problem, thought it polite and proper to do so!

        Kindest regards, Bex

    • WordPress says “the authors have deleted this blog” – Perhaps you have it set to private? It definitely shouldn’t be saying that even if you just recently published the post or just started the blog.

      For future reference, If it is a quote of 50 words or less with clear attribution (a link to my blog), it’s fine – but I don’t allow photos or longer excerpts to be taken without express written permission.

      Best wishes!

      • OK, I have just checked and the settings are on ‘public’. Umm, I hope it is visible now. I checked and it seems to be. I’ll contact WordPress for some help on that one though.

        Thanks Tracy. I tend not to quote masses from other peoples work, but if I feel a piece of work has inspired me, I will give credit where it is due. I wouldn’t copy a thing without the writers permission! That would be bad writing ethics!

        Best wishes to you too :)

  35. Yeah other Latinos can be so harsh about me not being fluent. I was with some people the other day, we were having cocktails and this girl hands me a drink and says she is going to “bring the Mexican out in me”. Really like what does that mean? Its like I’m sorry am I too white for you? I love Spanish music, am completely in love with Romeo Santos and Tony Dize and when people who know me see that I am so into that music, they get confused. I tear it up better on the dance floor then most of them, then they realize how latina I am LOL. Thats how I get my point across. Mad cumbias and even better reggaeton. :)

  36. As an english-thinker, I definitely prefer english in public. Because I grew up speaking spanish to my parents and grandmother, only, I associate spanish with intimacy and privacy. With my sisters it was always english and so with my peers it had to be english, too. It’s not like they didn’t understand me! It wasn’t long before my sisters and I were outcasts. In high school there were a couple kids who tried to include me, but it was always irritating to me that they would address me in spanish, because it felt phony and pretentious. And they in turn, felt annoyed and thought I was creída because I answered in english. They weren’t my mother, though, so no matter how exclusive and special it would make me feel to finally belong, I wasn’t going to answer them in spanish! Now all these years later, I’m needing to fill the void with regards to mi cultura salvadoreña and I’ve found your blog. I can’t get over the fact that you’re not even salvadoreña! Great topics Tracy. I hope you guys have had a wonderful summer!

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