The Beginning Origins of The Unapologetic Polyglot
I’ve got tons of things that I need to get off my chest, but before I begin blogging about them I think that it is important for me to write a little about myself and what makes me tick.
I am a white woman who is now a proficient bilingual. I suppose that I could say that I was raised by a somewhat racist single mother in a relatively conservative area of California. I remember there being a few Latino and African American students at my elementary school level. As far as I can remember, I always gravitated towards having Latina/o and African American friends in elementary school and beyond.
The first time that I confronted my mother’s blatant racism was when I was approximately in the third or fourth grade or so. I had a friend at school who was half African American and half Chinese and I asked my mother if she could come and spend the night with me on the weekend. I had been speaking about her at home, and my mother was aware that her mother owned the local Chinese food restaurant. My mother told me that I could have her spend the night. One day, my mother came to pick me up from school and I said, “Look, there is my friend Yvette” and she was horrified.
“You didn’t tell me that she was black”, my mother growled. “She can’t spend the night at our house”.
“Why not?” I asked.
“Because blacks are greasy and she will mess up your sheets. Blacks put grease in their hair and their skin is very greasy”.
Something about that comment did not sit well with me, although I was very young. I instinctively knew that there was something that was not right about what she was telling me, and I felt very bad about it.
“Then can I go and spend the night at her house?” I asked.
“No. I don’t want you around her dad. Black men fuck and rape their daughters”, she exclaimed. I tried to reason with her that I did not think that Yvette’s dad was a bad person, and my mother continued to tell me all of the horrible things that black men did to their daughters, and more importantly…what black men (supposedly) did to white girls.
Doesn’t this sound like it’s right out of a To Kill the Mockingbird type story??
Anyhow, Yvette never did come and stay the night at my house and I never went to hers. But I carried around a very hurt feeling because I knew that what my mother was telling me was not true.
Let’s flash forward to middle school and one of my second significant experiences with my racial identity. By the time I was in middle school, I had already become a connoisseur of Latino males. I once again gravitated towards having Latina friends and chasing after the Latino boys. It was in the seventh grade that I began to have Spanish-speaking Latina friends and I tried desperately to pick up the language. I can remember clearly that I had a crush on two cute Latino boys, one being named Allen. I’m not sure exactly how it came about, but somehow he found out about my crush and told one of my friends that he didn’t like “white girls”. I can remember being perplexed at the time because for so long I had been hanging around with black and latino friends that it was the first time that someone other than my mother pointed out the differences between me and other people.
Some time in the eighth grade, I became a little rebel and decided that I wanted to run away from school. My mother decided to send me to live with my father (who happens to not be a racist) and I was bussed to school in a relatively Latino and immigrant dominant community. It seemed so natural to me to be immersed in that environment and that was the time in my life when my lifelong love affair with the Spanish language began. I had a friend on the corner named Elizabeth who taught me how to speak a little Spanish and I began to voraciously watch Spanish novelas on television in an effort to learn Spanish. I can remember trying to mimic the intonations of the language the people were speaking on the television, even though I didn’t understand a word of what they were saying. My father had a relatively olive skinned complexion due to his Italian heritage, and I began to lie to some people (mostly the boys) and tell them that I was half Latina. As I write this I suppose it may have had to do with the rejection that I had faced the year before when I was turned down by my middle school crush. I even began to lie to some English speaking people, pretending that I spoke Spanish when I was on the telephone with them and “babbling” words with the a Spanish intonation pattern.
By the time that I returned home to my mother’s house at the end of the eighth grade, my racial and cultural identity had changed drastically. This is something that I would like to come back to in another post to delve into and explore a bit further. In another post I would like to blog about my experiences in high school during the years when I became fluent in Spanish, and later discuss my college years and beyond as I have evolved into a biliterate and multicultural woman.
I suppose that I am inclined to discuss a little about the origins of the development of my racial and linguistic identity because it really guides the way I live my life. Today I wanted to blog about a situation that occurred during a forum on the achievement gap as I was sitting with a group of other white educators. I wanted to express my frustration regarding me feeling as if I live in a completely parallel universe from people who look like me, but I think that I need to explain a little about my background before I get to that discussion.
Well, I do hope you are enjoying my story so far-if and when I get any readers!
You can continue reading my story about my high school years here.