Hija, es 'mordió', no mordó, mordió.
Growing up, I didn't speak Spanish. The extent of my Spanish abilities was some key vocab and tengo hambre. On the other hand, my abuelitos, who I spent most of my days with would speak to me mostly in Spanish. I could understand them, but I just responded to them in English and they never insisted otherwise. My mom and tíos all came to the states around 10-12, so they have spent most of their lives in the US. They all speak perfect English, with varying accents, and they only spoke to us kids in English. My dad and his family were all monolinguals and my dad's attempts at Spanish were kind of laughable.
As a kid, I was adamant about not learning Spanish and learning Japanese instead (I still don't speak Japanese). My mom never really forced the issue and that was that. Occasionally I would hear my abuelitos tell me that I should learn Spanish, and how important it was, but I'd roll my eyes and nod my head in agreement.
Then high school happened. I initially started taking French, but due to lack of interest, they cut the French classes. My only foreign language options were German or Spanish. Having 0 interest in learning German, I opted for Spanish, thinking that it'd be an easy A.
I recently read about some stats that showed the use of English/Spanish in Hispanic communities in the states. It seems that there are plenty of people that identify as Hispanic that speak predominantly English. Now, if you had told me this when I was in high school, I would have said see?! to my abuelos, just to get them to stop hassling me. But now?
Once I started Spanish classes, it all came pretty easily to me, until I got the plateau point where I felt like even though I was trying so hard and I had been studying so hard, everything I said was wrong. My abuelito, who loves to "educate", was the first to correct me, even when I made simple slips of the tongue. One day I was talking to him about their parrot and I said "Me mordó!", realizing the second I said it that I had made a mistake and it should have been mordió. Before I could correct myself, he said hija, es mordió, no mordó. Mordió. Mordió. Sigh. I felt like I wanted to give up then and there. I went to the bathroom, locked the door, and cried in frustration. I know it sounds dramatic, but I felt like there was so much pressure to get it right. Being Latina, I couldn't escape people's comments about how I should learn Spanish and their looks of disappointment when I couldn't. Or going to visit El Salvador and having to cling to my mom and abuela to translate for me for everything. Or just wanting to watch a stupid novela with my mom, and not being able to understand it. On top of that, I'm half white, so I was constantly at risk for being the shameful gringa. I felt like for other people, learning Spanish is handy. But for me, it was necessary for me to belong.
It's still a work in progress, but my Spanish is pretty good now, though it will never be perfect. As I grow and try to figure out my own identity and where I fit into everything, I think more about the role that Spanish plays in that. I may not fall into the "traditional" Latina mold in a lot of ways, but one thing I'm glad I did was learn Spanish. I feel like doing that isn't just practical, but it also gives me a closer tie to the community, and brings me closer to that part of myself. It kind of gives me a whole new person to be, or rather, access to a part of me that I never really had the chance to explore. If I ever change my mind about the whole having kids thing, I would insist that they be raised bilingual (or trilingual, or why not full on polyglot?). Spanish would have to be part of their lives, because it's part of who they are, and part of all of us as a culture. It kind of scares me to think that more Latinos don't know any Spanish at all. I feel like the language is really the core of the Latino culture, and if we leave that behind us, then what else are we leaving behind?