Spanish influence goes beyond holidays

By Helena Rodriguez: Local Columnist

If you’re a regular reader, you probably feel like my comadre and know all about me, from my family and adventures going back to school to raising a teenager and going to Mexico to learn Spanish.

Since I began writing a column in 2000, first for a newspaper in Abilene, Texas, and then in 2003 for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico, I’ve shared my life experiences with my readers. Drawing on my cultural background, this has naturally been from a Hispanic point of view, and every year, come Sept. 16, I’ve felt this need to explain why we celebrate El Diez y Seis de Septiembre, or Mexican Independence Day, in the United States.

As we observe Mexican Independence Day today, I don’t look at this event so much as an obligation anymore. Mexico has played an important part of U.S. history since Mexico defeated Spanish troops on Sept. 16, 1810. It’s been my contention that had Mexico not defeated Spain, thanks to Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costilla and his famous battlecall, El Grito de Dolores, it would have been difficult, perhaps impossible, for the U.S. to later defeat Mexico and take possession of the Southwestern states.

Besides that, numbers speak for themselves. Hispanics are the largest minority in the U.S. and newspaper companies are launching Spanish publications left and right. At Freedom New Mexico, we officially began a Spanish weekly, Fronteras, this week.

According to recent articles, the use of and demand for Spanish will only increase. An article by Max J. Castro of the University of Miami, says college students are flocking to learn Spanish. I’ve seen it first hand at Eastern New Mexico University where I’m taking intermediate Spanish. Companies are spending millions to advertise in Spanish and hire Spanish speakers.

Castro says Spanish is not an immigrant language. It was here before English, with its presence in North America preceding the founding of the U.S. In New Mexico. Spanish has been spoken here for hundreds of years.

The irony for many Hispanics like myself is that we’re not fluent in Spanish. We were raised following an era when our parents and grandparents were discouraged from speaking Spanish and are now struggling to learn it in our adulthood.

My story is common. My parents heeded my abuelita’s advice and taught my sisters and I English as our first language so we could do fare well in school and get good jobs. Now, I’m struggling in graduate school to learn Spanish so I can get admitted into a doctoral program on intercultural communication and eventually get a good job. I can’t blame my abuelita though. Grandma Chaya was a victim of discrimination in South Texas in the 1940s. She worked hard as a migrant farm worker and wanted better for us.

Besides taking classes and going to Mexico, reading is also helping me learn Spanish. I love to read, and reading in Spanish serves a dual purpose since I’m not around people who speak Spanish regularly. I purchased this great bilingual Bible and it’s the repetition in the Scriptures that is helping me expand and reinforce my Spanish vocabulary. Since I’m already familiar with the English translations, I can focus on the sentence structure in the Spanish version. I got this idea from Christine Davis of the Matthew 6:33 Academy who is also reading the Bible in Spanish.

For those of you, like me, who’ve spent a good part of your life wishing you knew Spanish and have been made to feel ashamed, don’t feel ashamed anymore. But as a victim of circumstance, don’t let that hold you back from learning Spanish now. It’s not just about getting a piece of the pie either. For me, learning Spanish is about preserving my culture and speaking it with a sense of pride, a pride that was almost lost.

Helena Rodriguez is a columnist for Freedom Newspapers of New Mexico. She can be reached at: