On Recovering My Mother Tongue: Speaking Spanish from the Bronx to México

During the first five years of my life, I grew up speaking both English and Spanish with my Puerto Rican family in the Bronx. Both languages reflected the kaleidoscope of my life at the time: I could switch easily from speaking English while romping around Randalls Island and the Williamsbridge playground to speaking Spanish while dancing salsa and merengue at my grandmother’s house in Parkchester.

Once we moved from the Bronx to Long Island in the early eighties, however, a critical shift happened. I was no longer in a community where Spanish was commonly spoken and on top of that, racist school counselors “advised” my mother not to speak Spanish to my brothers and me, in case it might “confuse” us. Respectful of school authorities, my mother obliged this narrow and misinformed demand.

This shift marked the beginning of being robbed of my mother tongue. I have been on a search to recapture it ever since. Continue reading