Multi-American | How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

When you don't speak the language you're presumed to: Dreading 'the Spanish thing'

For anyone who has ever been presumed - incorrectly - to speak a certain language because of how they look, this post by author Sabina Murray on The Nervous Breakdown blog will resonate.

Murray, the child of a Filipina mother and German-Irish father, writes about how her particular mestizaje leads people to think she's a Spanish speaker, especially when she travels to Spanish-speaking countries. The problem is that while she can get by in Tagalog, she doesn't speak Spanish. Anticipating a trip to Peru, she begins to dread what she calls "the Spanish thing."

It's a lengthy essay, so here are a few highlighted snippets:

Spanish makes me nervous because I can"t speak it. More clearly (not speaking Thai doesn"t bother me) Spanish makes me nervous because I can"t speak it, and I look like I should. I call this particular anxiety "The Spanish Thing."

...I should explain that I"m not your average gringa. My mother is Filipino, I have a functioning grasp of Tagalog, and I lived in The Philippines"arguably a Hispanic country" through my high school years. Tagalog, an Austronesian language, is not Spanish and shares much vocabulary with Bahasa Malay"parts of the body, for example, share the same or similar words"but anything that the Spaniards introduced tends to be the same word (mesa is table in both Tagalog and Spanish) or similar (the Tagalog for onion is sibuyas, cebollas in Spanish). Other words exist in both languages, but with different meanings.

...If you speak to me in Spanish, it feels like an invitation to something great that, unfortunately, I can"t accept. It"s awkward and the thought of traveling to Peru"although I was sure Peruvians try Spanish on blonde-haired, blue-eyed people as well"made me uncharacteristically self-conscious.

The first leg of my trip was a flight to Lima and started in Boston. At the check in, a young man put the baggage tag on my luggage, and, in Spanish, said something about my luggage (which I understood) something about something (which I didn"t) and"I think" wished me a good trip. I felt dizzied, a little stupid, and, although I know I hadn"t done anything offensive, rude.

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