Do You Speak Spanish?

By Mike Martinez

I’ve got a short commute home from the office. Truth be told, I’m usually in my head worrying about my perceived errors and foibles, just melting into thoughts and obligations. NPR blares in the background and it’s a miracle if I can remember things from the commute. This day something in the background pulled me in, that voice, the story, something just resonated, felt familiar. Shereen Marisol Meraji took center stage with her narrative about her experiences with heritage language and I was hard pressed not to be captivated by her story. Meraji begins the story about who she is and caps it off with this: “And next comes the question that I dread most…Do you speak Spanish?”

I sit and listen…

Massive tree with a light coming through and massive roots in display
Photo by Jeremy Bishop on Unsplash

While my struggles in language did not exactly mirror her struggles, they brought to the forefront the importance I placed on the acquisition of my heritage language and the place for it in my life.  

Growing up I often wondered why English was the dominant language spoken in our home.  Our neighborhood shared a mix of English and Spanish. Las abuelitas who sat outside doing their needlepoint shared words and stories which frequently took flight with an appropriate mix ending in Spanglish.  

Stories from my parents’ experiences of their childhood and my grandparents’ desire for them to “fit in” saw their heritage language wane. My mother’s command of Spanish was bolstered by her job working for an insurance agency that had dealings with Mexico and the agents who were recent transplants to the city. My father retained very little Spanish from his childhood when he made his way to San Antonio from Port Lavaca, Texas but kept an irreplaceable country drawl. My father worked diligently to learn Spanish, taking night classes from San Antonio College. Many nights were spent hunched over the kitchen table reading, conjugating verbs, and practicing vocabulary.

Seeing my father’s determination to gain a confident level of fluency intrigued me. I took Spanish classes in high school and made it a focus of my studies in college. I find the language to be a connection to my identity, to my ancestry, and it leaves me with questions about who I am and where I come from (since my parents are no longer with us). I think of this when I sit with my son doing homework for his Spanish immersion classes. I think of this when I muddle through trying to speak my pocho Spanish to patrons or a group of students.

The NPR story ends and I’m in the driveway finding it hard to hold back tears because I relate, because it resonates, because I feel seen…


Notes Between Us (NBU) is a blog about conversations and topics of interest to the writers. The writers are expressing their personal opinions solely. The essays represent their personal beliefs and not that of their workplaces or any organization they are associated with.