By Kimberly Rios Bravos
Whenever my aunts come over, they work on my and my sister’s Spanish.
My mother tells my sister that her best friend has called. As soon as my sister replies, “La voy a llamar pa’ tras,” Tia Maria puckers her lips. She lectures that in Spanish you can’t say ‘I am going to call you back.’ Eso es del inglés. She declares the accurate verb is devolver. “Voy a devolver la llamada.”
If my Tio Santiago is there, he’ll come to her defense. “Leave the girl alone.” But as soon as we think the war is over, he’ll go on to say, “stop bothering the girls, they are Americanas,” and won’t leave without patting the top of our heads hard, as if we were mentally disabled.
My mom and dad are different from the rest of their family. They believe in neutral zones. We stick a Spanish el or la before the English noun, pronouncing phrases like “Ya firmo el permission slip?” and “La teacher nos informed about college hoy.”
After a while, I begin resenting Spanish.
I realize that I can’t read my mom my essay about her immigration story simply because it won’t sound as interesting or lyrical in Spanish as it does in English. Sharing something in English means that I have to either translate or give a short definition for each word that does not already have a place in our lives. I try most times, but I end up angry and mutter “Olvidate.” Forget it, nevermind. I want Spanish to stop making me feel so alone. I just want her to go away.
That’s when blame arrives.
I blame her for the long hours that dad has to work in the factory. I blame her for the reason my mom has to spend more time with that dumb gringa instead of me.
“If only I knew English…” Dad would always start.
It’s my job to find that out. To be one of the first in the family to leave Spanish hurts. That’s why I have to hate it; so my departure from it becomes bearable. I do my best to not learn any more of it. Learn only certain words and topics in Spanish to talk about at the dinner table like immigration laws and school grades.
But as I immerse myself even more in the world of English, I find myself distancing from my family and committing what a Hispanic family would call gestos groseros, rude gestures. I don’t make eye contact when someone speaks to me, I’ll walk around the house with headphones in my ears, and watch TV sitcoms as I eat at the dinner table. And as I try my best to act as if I have no history or culture, my father still worries that I might turn out like him.
“Tienes que hecharle ganas.” You have to work hard, he would say every night before bed. “No quieres terminar como yo en esas factorías. Eso mata a uno. You don’t want this life.” But I do — I want that life. Of course not the racist remarks and the long work hours, just the conchas and the chocolate caliente. I want the Cumbias. I want the dramatic soap operas and the scary Llorona stories. I want Spanish. I want it all.
But loving what I already have, is a betrayal to my family’s wishes. And not being like my family, is a betrayal to them as well.
Kimberly Rios Bravo is a Chicana writer and artist whose pieces often reflect on the struggles that many children of Hispanic immigrants face in their everyday lives. As a child of Mexican-Immigrant parents, she hopes to let others with similar stories know that they do not stand alone. She was inspired to write after having read the works of authors like Sandra Cisneros and Daisy Hernandez.
“El Resentimiento” was published in All I Have to Say, a collection of original memoirs written by juniors at the High School of Fashion Industries. Help support the unique voices of our young authors by sharing their stories and making a donation! To receive notices about opportunities for your child, sign up for our youth writing opportunities newsletter.