A Latina’s Language Barrier


by Chelsea Candelario

After a day of classes, I pack my bags and head inside my father’s car. I start to mess with the car radio, skipping the merengue and reggaeton stations. At one point, I come across the Z100 station as my favorite song from Taylor Swift begins to play. I begin lip-syncing along to the music, interrupting myself to talk to my father about my day.

Image courtesy of Chelsea Candelario.

Image courtesy of Chelsea Candelario.

But when my father tells me, “Can you call your grandparents’ house and tell them we’re on our way?” I start to rehearse sentences in my mind. When they pick up, I begin to talk to them in English while they reply in Spanish. For years, I appreciated this exchange because it was easy. Although we speak two different languages, there is some mutual understanding when we have conversations. But I always wondered if it would be easier to speak Spanish fluently to them.

I feel like I’m living two different lives and I’m not sure where I fit. When I’m in my grandparents’ house, the smell of arroz con pollo, habichuelas, and tostones fills my senses. Univision plays in the background, but the conversation between us messes up the dynamic of my surroundings. Their questions are in Spanish, while my answers are in English. Most of the time they understand, but other times I have to use my broken Spanish to communicate.

I never saw this exchange as an issue. My logic was if both parties can understand than they can look past the difficulties I have speaking in Spanish. If I totaled the amount of Spanish classes I’ve taken, the amount still wouldn’t excuse my failed attempts of being bilingual.  The only thing that the classes taught me was to understand it better. However, I still freeze up when I try to put a sentence together. “Como se…what’s that word?”

When I came to college, I didn’t see it as a problem. Everyone I encountered spoke English. But coming into my third year of college, I was faced with a wake-up call.  In my dorm, I was surrounded by people who were fluent in Spanish. They reminded me of my grandparents, the people that walk through the streets of the Bronx, and the Spanish classes filled with students that were dedicated to major in this language. These girls looked like Latinas, but they didn’t sound like me. For the first time in three years, I felt ashamed that I wasn’t trying harder to be fluent in a language that’s so prominent in my family.

I’m constantly fighting an inner battle with myself. I want to perfect my Spanish and take away the barrier between my family and I. With three more semesters left of college, I want to educate myself on learning the language better. The next time I’m heading to my grandparents’ house, I want to be able to pick up the phone and spark up a conversation without rehearsing the sentences in my head.

Chelsea Candelario is a third year journalism major and creative writing minor at SUNY New Paltz. She’s a Latina that lives in Bronx, New York. She’s been published in the student-run newspaper, The New Paltz Oracle, and a student-run magazine, Avant Garde. She’s also a blogger of The Social Rundown outside of her academics.