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Sunday, December 13, 2009

Hablas Ingles?

Once in awhile I'm approached by an English speaking person and in broken Spanish asks "Habla ingles?" To which I answer a heartily "Yes." I'm good with it, I find it humorous.

When I attended school in the mid-60's, Spanish was my first language. My parents had all together totaled nine years of schooling. We moved from my birth place El Paso, TX, to Los Angeles, CA, in 1963, across from Lincoln Park and General Hospital. I was a naive kid when I started school in 1966. The mid-sixties were the heighth of the civil rights movement. I have vivid memories of what I was doing when I heard of the Watts riots, the assasination of Robert Kennedy and Martin Luther King.

Elementary school brings back memories of constantly having my mouth washed with soap for speaking Spanish on school grounds which was against school rules. (I really never acquired a taste for soap). In essence, I was forced to learn to speak English. To be honest, I am grateful I was forced to learn English. It broadened my opportunities and life pursuits.

Today, my first language is English in that I use it most. I am asked if I speak Spanish, instead. I tell people I speak three languages: English, Spanish & Chicano (common folk/street/informal Spanish). Guess which Spanish is used most in the states? The street form of Spanish, the simple form.

It's amazing how integral and connected someone's language can be to their identity. I have learned, though, over the years most important to someone's identity is their character and moral fiber. In my home we have tried to focus on character and I have failed to teach my kids Spanish. But hopefully they have learned that their intrinsic worth is found in their integrity, honor and self-respect. I certainly am imperfect and a poor example, but I try. My Father-in-law jokes that if it weren't for my bad manners I would have no manners at all.

It's been said the true character of a person is best seen in a time of crisis. My language will not help me in time of crisis (though I could curse in Spanish and I might feel better), but the moral fiber of my being will help me through.

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