Full disclosure: I do not speak Spanish. Growing up in McAllen, Texas, I understand the language to a degree of absolute confidence, yet I rarely attempt to speak Spanish aloud.
I know I won't pull it off in a manner that is comparable to my English, and that stops me from even trying—or that is my rationalization.
My father, who came to the U.S. at eight from Mexico, was punished for speaking Spanish at the Catholic School he attended in his new land.
I heard those painful anecdotes in English, in a house where I also learned my American accent from watching "Three's Company" and "Rockford Files" reruns.
In 2016, Sen. Ted Cruz explained his unease with Spanish to a Univision reporter after being asked if he could answer questions in Español: "I understand almost everything in Spanish, but I can't speak as well as I'd like."
Switching back to English, Cruz said, "I have the problem of the second-generation immigrant." He added, "To be honest, what I really spoke at home was Spanglish."
The reasons for this second-generation immigrant's unease in Spanish are complex, but the source of this complication seems tied to an immigrant's sense of survival.
Virginia Talley, who runs Hyde Park's The Language House, has very personal reasons for trying to get her students to experience the fullness of the Spanish language. The Language House offers private and group Spanish conversation classes, and in pre-COVID days even offered immersion trips to Oaxaca, Mexico for those who wanted to explore the land as well as the language.
Students of the The Languge House go on a hike in Argentina as part of an immersion trip the school offers. (The Language House)
Talley's father, a family doctor in Bastrop, had a lab tech who was originally from Mexico but never spoke his native tongue. According to Talley, the man considered Spanish taboo and did not speak it to his children due to locally perceived lower-class implications of the language.
"It was this horribly tragic thing when I look back on it," said Talley. "Where I was growing up, a lot of my friends were Hispanic… but they didn't speak it at all because, again, I think it was really looked down upon; the parents didn't even try to teach their kids."
Now Talley often sees second-generation Latino immigrants coming to her classes out of something close to guilt, or even a sense of responsibility to a lost heritage. "People feeling like they were embarrassed because they think they should be able to speak Spanish; you know, maybe it was not spoken at home, or they rejected it or they did not learn it properly."
The stigma of speaking Spanish is lifting, according to Talley; and now even those who can speak Spanish fluently seem compelled to learn it better.
While teaching Spanish 101 at Austin Community College, Talley says she was flabbergasted when she saw that everyone in her class was Latino. "I thought, 'What is going on here?' They were all heritage speakers and so their Spanish was beautiful (but), they could not write, so it was like an interesting dynamic, teaching heritage speakers basically how to write properly."
Marisol Cortez, an award-winning author who will be one of the few in-person authors featured in Austin's upcoming Texas Book Festival, knows the cultural complexities of this language issue well, and she is doing something about it.
Marisol Cortez feel internal pressure when she speaks Spanish, since she's not fluent in it. (Marisol Cortez)
A mother of a 13-year-old and a toddler, Cortez has made it a point to have her children speak both English and Spanish.
This was something that she herself did not get to experience while growing up, and it was an early impediment to her environmental activism that she had to correct.
Despite having a Mexican-American father, Cortez never heard Spanish at home. Growing up with a more natural command of English than Spanish in San Antonio was a bit of a double-edged sword for the writer.
Cortez recalls how her dad's own brand of Tex-Mex Spanish was mocked when he visited relatives in Mexico; so, the language was curiously a problem on both sides of the border.
"My dad didn't ever speak it at home," she says. "So I grew up kind of absorbing it but not speaking it at home and then anything that I am able to say in Spanish now was pretty much acquired as an adult."
The insecurity regarding her Spanish remains a slight block to her even today. She says when she speaks it she's nervous and feels internal pressure to sound more fluent than she is. But it's important to her that it stays alive in her family.
"The importance of Spanish for future generations lies in its ability to keep us tied to the struggles of our parents and grandparents," Cortez said. "It's a way of acknowledging that we stand on the shoulders of those struggles. Even as we acknowledge the reality that Spanish is a colonial language imposed on peoples original to this continent, it's also a way of keeping us connected to our neighbors, accountable to their struggles. It's an important form of solidarity."
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Just in time for the weather to cool down in perpetually hot Austin, National Hispanic Heritage Month is kicking off today through Oct. 15 and this city has some women to thank.
With more than 33% of the city identifying as Hispanic, the contributions of Austin's Hispanic community are innumerable and present in the everyday lives of residents. So, in celebration of Costa Rica, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico and Chile, here are some of Austin's Hispanic women you should know of.
TK Tunchez, Las Ofrendas
Dealing stickers with snarky slogans, multicolored maximalist accessories and wearable art pieces, Etsy store Las Ofrendas is the product of TK Tunchez and the creative spirit that guides her hand.
"The openness, the gemstones, the flowers we get from the earth, everything that generates for us is an offering from our ancestors. And we, as humans, will one day return back into the Earth to be the offering for the next generation," Tunchez told Austonia. "That's what inspires all of the work in the arts that I do, it's about empowerment, it's about creating joy and it's about really creating pieces that help people live their boldest, badass lives."
A lifelong artist, Tunchez was born in Guatemala, not in Texas but to a Texan mother, so she got here as fast as she could. While she struggled at first to find her footing as an artist in Austin, she searched for and thoroughly integrated herself in Austin's community of color.
"You create the road as you walk it, right, so I think for me, as I walk it I'm also providing that road for entrepreneurs, especially people of color," Tunchez said. "They are capable of creating their own businesses, they are capable of creating their own lives, they are capable of creating where their destiny is in front of them, and they need to see examples of that."
Tunchez was never taught how to run a business on her own, so she shares the knowledge she has accumulated through her platforms: Frida Friday ATX and Fuego ATX, intersectional and queer marketplaces that center & support women of color.
"I think that it's really important for us to use these opportunities to give voice to the multiple people that create our communities, and to shine light on the ways that our communities and our ancestors have been resilient," Tunchez said. "I have a lot of pride in being a Latina woman and Latina queer and being able to talk about what makes my culture beautiful to me."
Gabriela Bucio, Gabriela's
The face behind Gabriela's Group—consisting of Mexican restaurant Gabriela's Downtown and Gabriela's South, Instagram-worthy taqueria Taquero Mucho, high-end seafood restaurant Seareinas, all-pink-everywhere cafe Revival Coffee, nightclubs Mala Vida and Mala Santa—Michoacán, Mexico natives Gabriela Bucio and brother Arturo, have taken Austin's entertainment industry by storm.
Having worked in the Austin food industry since 2010, Bucio opened Gabriela's Downtown in 2018 and never stopped working on something new since then. Bucio is extending her help where she can—when Revival Coffee's previous owners began to struggle with rent payments due to the pandemic, Bucio took over the business, remodeled and reopened with the same staff.
As a proud U.S. immigrant, Bucio has said her goal is to give Latin Austinites a place that was made for them while she expands her ventures into the Hispanic community.
Nancy Flores, Austin Vida
After covering Austin's Latin community as the Austin American-Statesman's Community Affairs reporter for more than a decade, Nancy Flores has a profound passion for representing the city's communities of color.
Growing up reading Austin Vida, a former Hispanic-focused publication in Austin, made Flores feel represented, a feeling she wanted to share with the diverse Latin community around her. Flores began to resurrect the publication last fall with monthly Cultura Guides and plans to relaunch the website in the coming months.
"The Latinx community is not a monolithic group, so in a community like Austin where Mexican-American culture is dominant, because that's the population, you don't see as much of the other lands and cultures that make up a big part of the diaspora," Flores told Austonia. "It's important to highlight those nuances and even within the community to learn from each other."
In a city where Hispanic people are prevalent but representation is lacking, Flores works to uplift the people around her by celebrating the contributions and everyday achievements in the Latin community all year, not just this month.
"(Hispanic Heritage Month) is an opportunity to educate yourself a little bit more about the culture and find out how to be supportive and how to be an ally," Flores said. "For us, celebrating that heritage is happening year-round."
Reyna and Maritza Vazquez, Veracruz All Natural
Natives of Veracruz, Mexico, Reyna and Maritza Vazquez learned how to cook from their mother while working at a taqueria. The family moved to Austin in 1999, when the sisters were in their teen years. Even by then, the sisters knew they wanted to leave their mark on Austin cuisine.
Already having learned the value of hard work from the restaurant, the Vazquez sisters were prepared for the workload that came with opening up and saved for years to get their first short-lived food truck in 2006, selling juices and snow cones.
The Vazquez's tried again with a breakfast taco truck in 2008. After gaining a quick reputation for their organic ingredients, fresh salsas and migas, the Vazquez sisters have expanded to six locations, several of them trucks, across the Austin metro area. Most recently, they announced their expansion to Los Angeles with a new food truck called "Hot Tacos," opening this month.
Having received international acclaim for their fresh food and being recognized in the New York Times and LA Times, the Vazquez sisters have earned a well-deserved spotlight. Rest assured, you'll see more from the Vazquez family.
Candace Perez, The Posh Picnic
Prior to COVID, event specialist and Candace Perez and her party-planning company Events by Perez had events planned for all of 2020. When the pandemic hit and postponements turned to cancellations, she became restless and missed her job.
Around April, Austin native Perez started working on an idea to bring parties back safely and stylishly with an elaborate, Instagram-worthy outdoor picnic service called The Posh Picnic.
"I figured COVID was going to be done by Memorial Day. I don't think anybody knew the magnitude and how this was really going to affect us and it really killed the event industry," Perez said. "By April, I was miserable… like, 'I have to do something else. What is something else I can do that's going to be safe and people are going to feel comfortable?"
Her idea was a runaway success and best of all, she was thrilled to be part of people's joyful moments again.
"Pivoting to the picnics, I've been able to incorporate a lot of the vendors that I worked with before, and spread the love," Perez said. "I like to be a part of people's special moments—it fills my heart with joy, like a burst of excitement when I see them walk up to their picnic excited and surprised and you know they're giggling and they love it. I think that picnics are here to stay."
While succeeding in her unique party-planning endeavors, Perez said philanthropy is central to her business. Perez partnered with a fellow business to provide more than 100 hot meals to people during Texas' February Storm and holds seasonal Breakfast with the Grinch events that benefit Partnerships for Children.
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