by Kelsey Marquez
When people asked me what my native language is, I didn’t always know how to respond. My parents are Mexican immigrants and do not speak English very well. They speak to me in Spanish but my two older sisters have always spoken to me in English. When I first started school, my mom enrolled me in an English-only kindergarten class. Up until college, I had never taken a Spanish class. Therefore, my English was a lot better than my Spanish, even though I could speak both fluently. But when it came down to my which one was my native language, wouldn’t it be the one that I knew best (English)?
When I came to the University and began taking Spanish classes, I was always referred to as the “native speaker”. This was interesting to me because up until then, I considered myself a native English speaker. As I took more and more Spanish/ language classes, I realized that I did not need to know everything about a language in order to call it my native language. In fact, no one knows everything that a language consists of, not even those who are native. So when asked about my native language, I now proudly say that it is Spanish. I may not have known it as well as English, but it was the first language that I was taught.
It wasn’t until I was immersed in a culture that was predominately of white descent that I realized what my native language was. I grew up in a predominately Hispanic neighborhood so everyone spoke Spanish. My friends and I knew Spanish, but we usually just spoke in English among ourselves and in Spanish when speaking to adults. But here at the University, I did not have the same opportunity to speak Spanish had I not enrolled in Spanish courses.
I decided to dorm with my Spanish speaking friend from high school in a triple room. This meant that we would have a random third roommate. Not surprisingly, our third roommate was not Hispanic. My friend and I worried that our roommate would feel uncomfortable whenever we spoke Spanish around her. But to our surprise, she was very understanding and welcoming. She tried learning Spanish right away. We had only lived together for a week and she claimed to already know how to speak Spanish. That same week, she drew a picture of all three of us on a white board saying “Yo amo a mis mexicanas”. It was pretty funny but very sweet at the same time. My friend and I were very fortunate to have her as a roommate.
I have had different experiences as a Spanish speaker depending on the situation and setting I am in. I enjoy speaking to native speakers as well as those who are learning Spanish as their second language. I look forward to interacting with the Spanish speaking community in Champaign, given the dense Latino population on campus. It’s always nice to be immersed in a culture I am very familiar with.