You know when something plays over and over in a loop in your head? I recently experienced this while I was shopping one day. I heard an elderly Spanish man yell at a young, (probably around 10 years old) Asian-descended boy a while ago. The boy was in a store playing with his friend and speaking what sounded like a dialect of Chinese. As the man walked by and heard the two boys, he scrunched up his face and shouted,“¡Estás en España! ¡Habla español!” Translated: You are in Spain! Speak Spanish!
You’re in America! Speak English!
Since then, the phrase has stuck with me. To clarify, this is not an attack on any Spanish population or person. Ironically enough, I have heard a variation of this yelled at me, as well. In the USA where I was born and raised, I had an identical situation happen to me while on the phone with my mother. I was in college at the time, and I was speaking to her in Farsi. Halfway through our conversation, I heard some guy from down the hall of my dorm yell, “You’re in America! Speak English!” I guess I’m rather befuddled that such a small-minded perspective can cross such giant international borders.
You’re in Spain! Speak Spanish!
So, why has it been on my mind now, rather than when I lived in the states? I already knew that this kind of derogatory sentiment towards “outsiders” existed. But, why now? Well, now I’m the immigrant. Now, I see and feel things very differently. When I speak English in public, I am more sensitive to the stares I receive. I am keener on the scoffs I hear while speaking English in public. I am more nervous about the judgment I receive while speaking English in public. In a sense, I am more aware that I do not belong to this society while speaking English in public.
The Beauty of Immigration
Whether we discuss the close-mindedness that plagues the States, Spain, or any other country, it is important to note that it exists everywhere. It is even more important to recognize that it should not exist, period. Some of you may argue that countries have national languages and living in said countries means that immigrants need to adapt to their culture and ways. What these people don’t realize is that there is a possibility of adapting without erasing. Just because there is someone living in “your” country, does not mean they are obliged to speak “your” language at all times. The beauty of immigration is that it allows diversity to bloom. Imagine all the endless possibilities if we all stopped and accepted differences, rather than try to abolish them.
We Speak Spanish Well and Often
To clarify, most of my expat or immigrant, friends and I do speak Spanish. We actually speak it well and often. When we are together, however, we choose to speak our native tongue. And just so you know, it is a big comfort to us when we do speak English. Why? Our languages, cultures, and mannerisms all define where we come from. When we have the opportunity to express ourselves how we feel most comfortable, it simply reminds us of home. Getting together to celebrate Thanksgiving with other Americans in Spain makes the pain of missing family time a bit more bearable. Making hot wings and turning on the Super Bowl with other Americans makes the pain of homesickness a little more bearable. Speaking English and knowing that I’m not the only American immigrant living in Spain makes the loneliness feel a less empty and a bit fuller. You see, it isn’t about just speaking whichever language in whatever country. It’s about bringing your roots with you, connecting with them, and never forgetting where you came from and how home feels like.