Growing up, I found it hard to converse with my elders. I would get extremely shy. Before saying anything in Spanish, I would repeat a word over and over in my head, making sure it sounded correct. Then, when it was my turn to speak, I would get so embarrassed that I would just stay quiet. It was like I was afraid to use my voice because if I attempted to say something there was a chance I would get laughed at.
I can still hear my grandmother’s words, “What kind of Mexican are you if you don’t know Spanish, Mija? Aren’t you proud of being Mexican?” My feelings of insecurity stemmed from being seen as the “smart one” in the family.
I remember in grade school when the teacher said, “Practice reading with your parents at home,” and thinking, how do I do that when my mom can’t read? I recall my mom’s reaction when I first asked her to help me with homework. It was as if I had asked her to help me carry the world. It was then I realized my mom was unable to help me and that’s when I was motivated to educate myself.
In high school I enrolled in as many honor classes as I could as well as extracurricular activities. I was unsure of what colleges wanted so I decided the more challenging classes would make for a more competitive application.
At first I knew I wanted to study Spanish. I could picture my family’s joy. I envisioned myself finally having meaningful conversations with my grandma.
“I knew Chinese would offer me opportunities Spanish couldn’t.”
Yet, I was drawn to the idea of studying Chinese. I thought if I studied Chinese, then colleges would see that I tried to challenge myself. If I studied Spanish, I would be just another Hispanic female. The decision was difficult, but I knew what I wanted to do. I wanted to be the first in my family to go to college and succeed afterward. And I knew Chinese would offer me opportunities Spanish couldn’t. Choosing Chinese meant that I would still not be able to communicate with some of my family, but it would give me a better chance to go to college and hopefully do all the other things I wanted to do in life like travel.
As tough as it was growing up in a family with a low education background, it was also motivating. I was able to decide early on that I wanted be a college graduate and travel the world when I grew up.
When I opened my first college acceptance letter I yelled! I found it hard to believe. I had to read the letter three times to make sure I was reading it correctly. My grandma, aunt, and mother cried when I told them the news. Yet, as “smart” as I am, I am still seen as the girl who knows it all, but can’t communicate with most of the family.
“Chinese helped me get to college and has allowed me to see another part of the world.”
I still keep quiet when I am around my relatives. The juxtaposition of being the most educated in the room and still the dumbest when it comes to Spanish definitely affects me. Nevertheless, this insecurity was motivated me. This fall I decided to study in a Chinese Intensive Language program so that I could progress in my skills. I left a country I felt safe in to live and study in China, a country I knew very little about. Studying Chinese has been one of the best decisions I could have made. I truly believe Chinese helped me get to college and now has allowed me to see another part of the world.
Learning Chinese is an adventure that I’m exploring and loving. Chinese has offered me the chance to truly value and appreciate a whole new culture. My family now sees the opportunities learning Chinese has granted me and they are truly amazed. I call home every once in a while and send pictures of all that I am doing here and the responses I get are incredible. I didn’t please everyone by choosing to study Chinese, but I knew it would afford me more opportunities for my future. Because of Chinese, I am now the living example that someone in my family can go to college and travel the world. And that means everything to me.