A Lesbian Latina’s Adventures with Interracial Relationships: To Speak or Not to Speak Spanish?

Te Quiero

For my 34th birthday, I gathered with a small group of queer friends of various national backgrounds and cultures, including a straight Lebanese gentleman whom I felt an instant connection with because he pronounced my name right. As we sipped on our drinks, enjoying great conversation — a balance of light and funny, deep and political — in our various accents, lingos, and lenguas, I’d been texting back and forth with another friend — a black woman — and finally invited her to join us. An hour later, she did just that. And things quickly changed.

At one point, surrounded by laughter and love and now also filled with several martinis, I leaned in to one of my dearest friends and said to her, “Yo no puedo beber mas.” I couldn’t drink anymore. We fell into each other laughing. But almost immediately after our innocent exchange, the friend who’d arrived later in the evening demanded, “Speak English. It’s rude to speak another language when the common one is English.”

Now, before I let you know what happened next, I need to let you know that I’d been drinking. And, when I’m drinking (which is rare), I don’t appreciate having my “happy high” brought down. Moreover, it was my birthday. Was I really being told that I couldn’t speak Spanish, my mother tongue, on my birthday?

I didn’t say any of this, but I’m sure it was apparent on my face. I looked over to her, perplexed, and replied, “Really?” And she replied, curtly, “Yes.” The tension across the table thickened as my other friends exchanged glances, both disapproving and embarrassed. There were attempts to continue the conversation and regain the ease of conversation we’d been enjoying prior to the language comment, but soon after I called it a night, disappointed.

There are many words that can be said which (intentionally or inadvertently) often rip at the fabric of an individual’s identity. There are words that, when put together, can evoke a series of emotions and reactions as we attempt to both assert and guard who we are.

As a lesbian activist who primarily works with communities of color, we hear often that these words come from “outsiders,” those outside of our QWOC community. And though I’m quite comfortable rising against outsiders, oppressors who dare to question my identity, there is a deep sense of defeat I feel when the same words used to oppress “us”, are then used by “us”. You need to speak english? Really?

When I was in college, I dated white-women because English-speaking queer women was “all there was.” To my knowledge, I was the only out Latina lesbian in an all-women’s catholic college. Matter of fact, I think I was the only queer woman of color. I had a difficult time with interracial dating, though not as much as I do now. In college, my environment was predominantly Anglo and privileged, and to survive I was often encouraged to “blend in.”

Back then, if I ever took someone I was dating home to Spanish Harlem, NYC, I constantly had to translate or explain things. And while I didn’t mind then, the truth is… I do now. As an LGBT activist who eventually found community with queer community of color, dating white women or even non-Spanish-speaking women of color become even more challenging. I don’t want to explain every single story, conversation or joke. Everything gets lost in translation –mainly my sanity. And when I feel like I have to interpret everything, staying in the moment becomes near impossible.

When I come home, I say hi to my cousin in Spanish. When I talk on the phone to my parents, I speak Spanish (and many times Spanglish). When I speak to my bilingual siblings, I speak Spanish. I digest arroz con guandules. My music collection is mainly Latin American music. I write in Spanish as much as I write in English. I speak to my nieces and nephews in Spanish, so that they don’t forget. I read Spanish literature. My hips instantly sway when I hear a Latin beat. Coño, I even dream in Spanish.

Thinking back to my birthday, in the moment I spoke Spanish, I felt comfortable and felt safe to do so. That feeling of safety was shattered by the command to “Speak English.” I’ve been pondering, since then, the reason English-speaking women of color would break that trust, and have come up with three possible reasons:

1. You think I am talking about you.
2. You’re nosy.
3. You’re  upset because you’re monolingual.

Puñeta, si a mi me da la maldita gana de hablar en mi lenguaje, lo hago! You want to know why? Because I have options. My tongue split when my mother brought me to this country. I weave in and out of both with such ease. For too long, as women and queer and Latina, we have been told to “change” or to fit a mold or to assimilate. And when we do it to each other, we become the very thing we have hated.

There are many conversations that need to take place in our POC LGBT community and language — particularly the silencing of non-English speaking cultures — must be one of them. Our history dances on the tips of our tongue. Language, whether slang or foreign, is the place we come Home to feel safe. And if, amongst ourselves, we tell each other that we have to speak whatever is the “accepted and expected,” we are nowhere closer to liberating each other from the impact of colonization, than we are to eradicating racism and misogyny. In fact, by policing language, we hold our sisters’ tongues captive in the spaces where we come together to feel safe and celebrate our diversity. And that simply won’t do.

So, to my friends, but especially to any potential girlfriends, oye:

I might have left Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, but they never left me. And all of these things and many more form parts of who I am. These are also very important for me in a partner. I need you to be rooted in Latinidad because it is there that I feel Home. And that is where I need Love to begin, from a familiar place. When my mother brought me to this country she made sure that I learned the language of this land. But she enforced that we NEVER forget that at the root of our tongues were beautiful sounds that we could return to when we needed to feel at Home.

Trust me, this hopeless romantic would be the first to say Love needs no translation. But I’ve realized that there is nothing wrong with stating your preferences; especially when those preferences are necessary for creating the emotional space you need to feel at Home. For me, language is one of them.

About the Author

Sarahi Yajairalatina. lesbian. woman. commander-in-chief of my one-woman army fighting social injustice and oppression through spoken word. i am writing. not the act of writing but the art of writing. i am words. words that heal. http://intruthandlight.wordpress.comView all posts by Sarahi Yajaira →

  • andee2012

    My only comment is i think that it’s rude to speak spanish to one individual if you are in a group. Unless that person you are speaking to does not speak english. Why couldnt you have said ” can’t drink anymore” in english if the majority of the people you are with only speak english? Why couldnt you share the joke with everyone?  Just because one person in your group understands spanish that doesnt mean for you to speak to them in spanish while you are in a group…unless of course you’re flirting with that person and what you say to them you want to keep private. In that case pull them aside and speak to them. Me personally, i think it’s rude. I’m puerto rican and i’m proud to be puerto rican, just as i’m proud to be left handed or proud to be an american. No doubt i have pride in who i am. I’ve also been told to speak english when i’m in a group and i did not take it offensively. Sometimes you forget who’s around you and expect everyone to understand you. I apologized for my rudeness and repeated it in english so that EVERYONE would understand what i said. Some people are just way too sensitive..

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      Thanks so much for your comment. And for illustrating how you’ve handled similar situations. I’m sure many others will relate to this. I’m sure Sarahi will respond but I wanted to weigh in and say that it’s very important to hear different voices on this issue. As the editor of the site, I want to gently point out that we hope to encourage respectful debate and engagement around issues (especially in the event of disagreement). We are often silenced in mainstream/white spaces when we talk about race/ethnicity e.g. you people of color are being too sensitive, so that’s not a dynamic we wish to replicate here. Your perspective is interesting — and valid — especially given that you a Puerto Rican who also speaks Spanish, just as Sarahi’s is, as someone whose mother tongue is Spanish and often defaults to that in moments of comfort. 

      How can both of these perspectives exist, and be honored? Respected? Is there a way for others to feel affirmed in their multi-lingual identities even in spaces when the majority of people only speak English? How can we also make sure we don’t let the fear of excluding others lead to the silencing of parts of ourselves? Thoughts? 

    • Sarahi Almonte

      as posted in the piece, this was a festive occasion. i was surrounded by friends. but even if i wasn’t, i will NUNCA think it is rude to speak my native language at any given time nor will i ever apologize for it. i use my good judgement to determine when it is appropriate to speak the other language. but telling me i HAVE to speak English? that i HAVE to?

      as my favorite Tio always says, “I don’t HAVE to do anything but be Puerto Rican and die.”

      i don’t forget who is around me. in fact, sometimes i speak Spanish with the clear knowledge that what i want to tell the other person is not for anyone else. i have that choice.

      i can speak it, cuando quiera, donde quiera sin tener que darle explicacíones a nadie. this isn’t about being “rude” this is about having a choice.

      i hope you don’t ever apologize again for speaking español. there is nothing rude about speaking la lengua de tus abuelos. they passed it on for a reason. don’t ever bite your tongue. 

      when i address a person directly, i will adjust accordingly to the language they understand.

      con respeto a usted.

  • http://twitter.com/AdrianaR2009 AdrianaRealtor

    Thank you for this post! Sarahi’s words are always thought
    provoking and entertaining.  Here is my stand on this. I am a Latina and
    do not think it’s rude to speak my language EVER. Having said that, I will add
    that as with any other form of expression we should take into consideration who
    is around us and what type of an environment it is. This particular example
    suggests that it was a festive reunion and I assume that everyone present knows
    that Sarahi is Spanish and speaks Spanish.  In many situations I have been
    in a room full of non-Spanish speakers and will say something in my language to
    a fellow Latina/o.  If it becomes a conversation where we are clearly
    excluding those who cannot understand then it is rude. To become offended or
    assume that someone is talking about me or purposely excluding me is not a
    thought that has crossed my mind. Being able to say to a fellow Latina/o “Que
    lo Que” and if even for a few second feel that we are sitting at a “cuchifrito
    en el campo de mi abuela” is a necessary blessing  

    • Sarahi Almonte

      Adriana,

      1. “I am a Latina and I do not think it’s rude to speak my language EVER.”

      2. “…a necessary blessing indeed.”

      Mil gracias.

      Abrazos.

  • Eritrea Mehary

    First,  I’d like to thank the writer for bringing to light something i think a
    lot of us experience when dating and even in some cases befriending people outside our “language bracket” . Being a bilingual woman myself who
    eats, dreams, laughs in my mother tongue when i am in mixed language
    crowds or groups i make a game out of trying to understand and
    appreciate the differences in the way we speak. As a woman who has dated
    women outside of my race/ethnicity/language bracket (more so out of
    necessity ) identifying how important my culture and language is to me
    helped me to identify the types of women i would date and friends i
    would keep as i get older. Not to say that i only make friends and
    partners who are similar to me but that my partner/friends would also
    most likely have to be someone that had a language or culture of their
    own and preferably be able to identify with my immigrant background. Now
    coming into adulthood i have also learned  that you do not choose when
    you fall in love or with whom. The person i have ended up with is Black
    American (as she so chooses to be identified) and is as AMERICAN as can
    be and speaks English only. At times it feels like we come from two
    other planets and not just two different continents, needless to say i
    feel as though we were made for each other. She so happens to be someone
    who has an understanding and appreciation for my background/culture
    that  began long before i ever met her. She is also someone that is so
    open minded to people and their differences. I guess my point in all
    this though is respect for people unlike yourself. The same way i would
    never snare at an English only speaker for being just that ONLY ABLE TO
    SPEAK ENGLISH, I would hold my friends or partners to that same
    standard, with the understanding of who i am which includes my language
    and my culture, you do not get me without those. Thank You for such a
    well written article.

    • Sarahi Almonte

      “…identifying how important my culture and language is to me helped me to identify the types of women i would date and friends i would keep as i get older.”

      Eritrea,It has taken me a while to get this point, 34 years exactly. I am learning as I walk this journey the things that I prefer and what is important to me.

      I think it’s great that your partner has an understanding and appreciation of your culture. That is important for the survival of any relationship. For me language is important because when I am not at work or surrounded by predominantly white culture, I speak Spanish. It feels like Home.

      Thank you for reading and engaging in dialogue.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_DK726Z43CINA3OHKKFAMKGY5XA Adam

    Interesting question. Although I have to say that I fail to understand why it has anything to do with your sexuality.

    I live in South Africa. Here we have 11 official languages. Nobody can learn them all. And although some are similar (so, for example, a Zulu can understand Xhosa) very few people could understand something said in all of them. So it is absolutely normal to hear people say things that you can’t understand.

    People should learn to accept this, especially native English speakers who are usually the worst in this regard.

    I frequently hear people talk in English and then say something in another language, often because it is just easier to express the concept that way. My partner often does that (in a mother tongue that is not one of the 11 official languages) and I don’t always understand (my fault for not getting off my ass and properly learning her language) and when things are explained they often don’t make as much sense in English as in the original language anyway. English is a fairly unique language in that it is so loosely linked to culture – maybe why so many patois have developed, to try and link a particular dialect of English to a culture. Other languages are far more intertwined with the cultures where they are spoken.

    I speak French and German as foreign languages (neither of which is an official South African language) and there are some things that I would choose to say in one of those languages, even though I don’t speak the languages very well, because it is easier than in English. And yes, some of the people may not understand, but they don’t care and they often say something that I don’t understand.

    English monolinguals should learn that there is a big world out there.

    Just in case you are interested, I am a heterosexual white English male married to a black Zimbabwean female. But as I said, I fail to see why your or my sexuality is relevant.

    • http://www.spectraspeaks.com/ Spectra Speaks

      Adam, thanks for your comment. And for the thoughtful illustration of your experiences as a multilingual south African. Yes, people of various racial backgrounds have shared (and varied) experiences around language. The author has framed her own experiences within the realm of interracial dating. She happens to be a lesbian; she also happens to be a woman of color (Latina). So, yes, all of this is very much relevant to her, and the majority of contributors and readers of this blog. This is why, incidentally, yes, we are very interested in knowing from which perspective(s) you speak, as this space is dedicated to amplifying the voices of queer women of color. Even if we decided to discuss video games alongside our sexuality, it is relevant as long as we deem it so; and certainly not up to people who hold privilege in the areas of race, gender, and sexuality to say debate otherwise, or worse, demand that we justify the inter-connectedness/compounded marginalization of our experiences.

    • Sarahi Almonte

      adam, thank you for this. and yes, i completely agree that “English monolinguals should learn that there is a big world out there.”with regards to my sexuality, as a writer i try to always write from what i call my “wholly trinity.” that is, the three aspects of my life that move me. i always write from a latina, lesbian woman perspective.
      and while my sexuality might not appear “relevant” to the piece, i cannot omit it because i cannot silence that part of me in anything that i write.

      we have been silenced for too long.

  • timelysarcasm

    “I’ve been pondering, since then, the reason English-speaking women of color would break that trust, and have come up with three possible reasons:

    1. You think I am talking about you.
    2. You’re nosy.
    3. You’re upset because you’re monolingual.”

    There could also be non-negative reasons (although the way the author described her friend’s reaction seemed like she was annoyed) – maybe someone just wants to be in on the joke, or a part of the conversation. I’m a bilingual QWOC, and because I have a diverse array of friends, I sometimes find myself in company with people that speak a language I don’t understand. I wouldn’t snap at them to speak English, but I have asked to have a joke explained, or ask someone what they’ve said, especially if it garnered laughter. I don’t think it’s rude or presumptive at all – especially if we’re hanging in a group. There’s an element of politeness in not having private conversations if there’s not a need to.

    That said, I think #3 is a bit rude – maybe that was the author’s intent, but either way, it’s not the nicest way to generate dialogue on the topic. Yes, being bilingual is a social, economic, and personal boon – but only speaking the native language of the country you actually live in is not a crime, either.

    I can understand the author’s frustration, but I can also understand the exclusionary aspect of that in mixed settings. I also could never imagine intentionally limiting myself to dating people that are exactly like me racially, linguistically, sexually, etc.

    • Sarahi Almonte

      yes, there could be non-negative reasons. usually that person would say, “what did you say?” and not DEMAND that i speak English. like you said, “you wouldn’t snap,” but would ask to have the joke explained.

      it wasn’t a private conversation, it was a comment. but i reiterate, i cannot apologize for speaking my language at any given moment because i have a choice.

      it is not a crime to speak the native language of the country you live in, but it should be a crime to demand others speak just so that you understand something that wasn’t meant for you in the first place.

      i have dated quite a diverse group of women from white to Haitian to Portuguese. immigrants. first-generation. second generation. and i have learned that language is very important in a relationship to me because it is the way i communicate outside of “work related environments.”

      as we grow older we begin to understand the things we prefer. i prefer women. Latina. Spanish-speaking. lesbian identified.

      it isn’t a limit, it is self-understanding and awareness.

      • timelysarcasm

        Well, do you really think your friend’s rudeness is an indicator of the general attitude toward people speaking their native language in mixed company? I don’t. It seems like that level of hostility is an isolate incident, especially among those I consider friends. I’ve never had someone I’m close to do that, but yes, I have had people ask for a translation or explanation. And it’s given without annoyance. If I wanted something to be entirely private, I’d wait and discuss it with that person later.

        You misunderstood my comment, I didn’t say it’s not a crime to speak the language of the country you live in, I said it’s not a crime to ONLY speak the language of the country you live in. Your post seemed to suggest that your friend’s response was because she was jealous she’s not bilingual. I just thought that was a bit rude, that’s all. Being monolingual isn’t something to be derided or sourced as a point of jealousy in those that aren’t bilingual.

        And fair enough on your preference with dating Spanish-speaking latinas. 

        I think being a mixed bilingual QWOC has gives me a slightly different perspective. I don’t see speaking English as my work-related language and Portuguese as my true language. It’s far less black and white than that.

      • timelysarcasm

        One other thing – I think dating is the one area in which you can be as picky, discriminatory, and whatever else as you want. I wasn’t criticizing on that, honest. If it came off that way, it wasn’t intentional. I think we all have some deal breakers with the people we date.

  • C12allen

    It’s the same as if you share an inside joke with someone and while in a group you happen to use a “coded” word that sends them into peals of laughter. The answer for the shared communication is “You had to be there”…a lot would be lost trying to explain the situation that caused the laughter in the first place. I find that lingually challenged individuals ( those who speak only English) feel threatened when they cannot understand what is being said. They ascribe to the “everyone needs to speak English” theorem versus learning to embrace other cultures and languages. Yo hablo Español and I welcome the chance to learn more and to hopefully be fluent someday.

    • http://www.facebook.com/ric.chaz.7 Ric Chaz

      I’ve been a position like that. A friend said almost the same the same thing(but it was Tamil) and it can be infuriating because why would it take so long to take 3 minutes of someone’s time to explain what it is. So I did the exact same thing so her for a month. She didn’t like it one bit and she’s trilingual..

  • http://www.facebook.com/scolonsantiago Sulimar Colon Santiago

    I have fallen in love… lol!

  • Sugar Iced Tee

    So I get the sentiment of this blog post. I really hate the whole I’m someone who know someone therefore I have a better voice in this debate deal. But, for the sake of the conversation I am going to add some background on who I am, in order to add comment to the discussion. My partner is a Chicana born in Mexico City and migrated to Arizona when she was four, she is bilingual. I am a black (American born) woman who is monolingual. Our relationship has not been easy, we both met in Phoenix doing immigrant justice work and our romance took off from there. Being a black woman who managed to organize in Mexican spaces while remaining monolingual (not by choice I really really suck at learning languages) was hard, trust me, but I managed to connect with women struggling against the state in different ways. I do believe that the sister came at you mad hard about your mother language at your birthday party, I agree, she should have just said, “What does that mean?.” But I do think that you’ve come mad hard at her for feeling so hostile about the encounter. Mainly this comes from a place of hurt for me, as a black (American born) woman I often found myself in my relationship with my partner feeling jealous of the history and the culture my partner had. Being a decedent of slavery ain’t easy. It’s incredibly hard to be black in this country and the only legacy one can ever immediately come to when thinking of my people is dislocation, violence, and destruction. Sure black culture is much more rich than that, but when you think about the history that where my story starts. And when I am reminded of the historical holes missing in my story I immediately begin to feel all sorts of upset. I wish I knew my ancestors native tongue, I wish I knew where in Africa I came from. I wish I knew the woman who carried my family’s story across the Atlantic. But because of white supremacy all that has been ripped away from me, and that sister at your birthday jam. Once again this is not an attempt to say your feelings of hurt is not valid, my partner would be super mad at me if I even though such a thing. You are always more then allowed to speak your language! But, all I ask is a little understanding of the situation. I hope that you were able to talk with that sister about the pain that situation caused you, and I hope she was able to hear you and share her pain or exclusion with you. Even if none of that happened (cause that shit is mad hard) I hope you don’t hate her or other monolingual black women for what happened. For me I’m convinced from experience that she was jealous but not in a hater since but in a “damn white supremacy has ripped so much away from me” since.

    p.s. I completely dig your feelings on only dating other Latinas, my partner and I struggle with the difficulties of having a interracial relationship that is much more complex than white and black or white and brown. Ultimately as cheesy as it sounds we love each other, and everyday realize that we want all of our people, black and brown, on the same side the day we finally mount an attack, on white supremacy for our liberation.

  • Pirl Harbour

    It takes hubris to impose with impunity that someone speak English, when their conversation is directed to someone else in Spanish. Europeans learn each others tongues because they travel, work and live in different countries. I have been in situations, through the work I did, where people would break into another language, some speaking Italian, Serbian, French and of course English. No one jumped up from the table indignantly insisting that everyone must know what the others were speaking about. Naturally people break into another language for practical and PERSONAL reasons.

    When the great migration from Europe in early twentieth century came to the US. Immigrants did not teach their children their native languages to avoid the stigma that came from being a “foreigner.” So the children of these immigrants didn’t carry their parents language. “Anglos as Mexicans call them are English only speaking estadounidenses.

    The Latino/Hispanic experience is very different because we are not ashamed of our heritage or language. Our parents speak Spanish at home and keep the cuisines, religion and culture which is a fusion of Spanish, Native and African influences in the Caribbean and all of South America. The cultural ties are due to the common language so that Luis Borges and García Márquez, etc. are shared and studied by all of Latin America.

    Fear, the mother of hate and envy seems to rear it’s provincial little head whenever free floating insecurity attacks. It is important for fear mongers to understand that when we speak Spanish with each other, you are not in our thoughts. You are not all that! We are sharing something special and if you want in on it . . . hey you learn our language.

    With due respect. XOXOX

  • LatinaJovenYLesbiana

    So true!! I completely agree with everything you wrote, that comment was beyond rude. And although everyone that lives in the US should know english, if I know both people should just mind their own business! 🙂

  • http://www.facebook.com/dceribo Danielle Ceribo

    i love this post! as someone who is monolingual and in an interracial relationship with a latina, i dont understand how people fault others who are bilingual. my high school spanish class has enabled me to understand some things she discusses with her family, and when i don’t understand something, i dont really say anything if i’m not involved in the conversation (and when i am, i think they can tell when i start to get the “oy my brain hurts and i dont cant translate anymore” glaze in my eye lol). anyway, gracias por tus palabras!

    ps. this also reminds me of the spoken word duo, yellow rage’s poem, “listen asshole” (i think that’s the title) — http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y22ty-VPpbA kick ass! 🙂

  • borabora31

    Sahari I love this post so much that i’m looking forward to your next, you are a character that I’ve been looking for for some time. now that i’ve found you you after after such a search Girl i know that there ain’t no letting go!!

  • Muxermaravilla

    I’m just coming across this post, but I want to share my appreciation for this article and my reflections on this topic. I too been told esa vaina de “speak English” around monolingual English speakers. All my relationships have been interracial from Korean to African-American partners…Dejame decirte, California is no easy place to be Dominican and love has no boundaries. This article validates my reasons for choosing to speak my native tongue cuando se me de la gana. Like some people, way back when, I used to hold that perspective that speaking in my native tongue (Caribbean Castellano/Spanish) was rude when others spoke only English, but I no longer hold that internalized oppressive and shaming mentality. I express myself in what feels like “home” and feels “comfortable”. I’m a firm believer that there is a space where others can ask, explore, and learn–“what does that mean”? And I’ll be happy to share (provided I can translate what I said). I understand that learning other languages could be challenging; i have tried to learn 7 other languages myself….however, I am proposing a space for ‘sharing with each other’ as opposed to “learning or teaching”. I’m not saying, learn a whole new language, but at least learning some cultural idioms and expressions could go a long way for everyone. Since traveling overseas and experiencing the diversity of languages around me I saw a different perspective to the “speak English” business. If i didn’t understand something, I didn’t ask no one to speak English for my sake. I just asked, what does that mean and learned what I could in different traditional settings. In fact, while visiting friends in Japan and Ethiopia I naturally started responding to people in Spanish, not English. It came straight from my soul & heart to speak in my native tongue. I wasn’t trying to offend anyone. The days of being afraid to speak in Spanish, because of how others may or may not feel are over. I am aware that others may be sensitive, and I hope that we can find ways to have constructive dialogues around this topic.

  • Anaid

    I
    hope people don’t assume that all monolingual are intolerant of people
    who speak other languages while being around them even though everyone
    in the group speaks a common language.

    For
    example I’ve been in situations when I was doing my hospital training,
    There were some nurses who obviously knew English but would at times
    speak Tagalog amongst themselves even though non Tagalog speaking people
    were in their group conversation but I didn’t think it was particularly
    rude. I mean people are going to sometimes speak the language they feel
    most comfortable with and there’s nothing wrong with that.

    Same thing went when I was around both English and Spanish speakers.
    At
    times I would say a word or two or phrases in Spanish to other Spanish
    speakers within our group even though there were monolingual people but
    we weren’t carrying on full fledged conversations in Spanish since that
    would have been rude so I think it depends on the whole situation.

    That
    chick was rude to say you should only speak English just because she
    couldn’t understand a few words or phrases, but at the same time it’s
    also rude to carry on a full fledged conversation predominately in a
    language that the other person in the group would not be able to
    understand and participate so it really depends on the whole situation.

  • Anaid

    Incidentally, I’ve been with some Latinas who didn’t know Spanish. Either their parents did not teach them or perhaps their parents did not know or liked speaking Spanish which made things interesting when out in public because at times some Latinos would naturally go up to her to ask her for directions or whatever thinking she knew Spanish but she would tell them she didn’t know Spanish and would direct them to me telling them she knows Spanish so talk to her lol.

    It made it interesting since I look more black even though I happen to be both black and mexican but most people assume I wouldn’t know Spanish and based upon looks would automatically go to her instead of me.

    Point of this story that even though there’s people in interracial relationships at times they may both know the same non English language/s either because they were raised in a neighborhood where that non English language was most spoken or could have learned it at a school so at times it’s not always a barrier that both may be of different races or cultures since they may still share a common language. =)

  • Francisco

    Maybe I’m weird, but I’m a bilingual Mexican, and I don’t automatically feel at home when someone talks to me in Spanish. You don’t have to be latino to learn it. And just the same way, I don’t automatically feel attacked if I’m asked for a translation, because being bilingual is not a burden. Unless you literally grow up together, a common language is hardly enough to guarantee that two people will understand each other.

  • brufanegra

    I can only think of one situation where I thought it was rude to speak in your native language. I was out with a group of friends for drinks after work (all Mexican). I was the only mono-lingual person there and they spoke in spanish pretty much the entire night. I don’t think they meant to do it on purpose but I felt kept out of the conversation and pretty much a 5th wheel.

  • nq

    gracias hermana dominica! que alivio verme reflejada en tus palabras!

  • bella

    Hi. I loved your article and for the monolingual group, I am so sorry she behaved like that. I have recently met this amazing Latina woman and your article made me think a lot about my lack of ability to speak Spanish. I can do my best to learn the language and will get there but in the meantime, is there anything else that I can do to be sensitive to her needs in this respect?

  • http://twitter.com/CynthiaKaselis/status/324624904571994112/ @CynthiaKaselis

    A Lesbian Latina’s Adventures with Interracial Relationships: To Speak or Not to Speak Spanish? – http://t.co/SCZaCv8bMD via @qwocmediawire

  • Jasmine

    Powerfully and beautifully written.

  • ChicagoChick

    America ISNT A ENGLISH COUNTRY. It was Colonized! Fukkk that shirt take that shit of talking about “of color” BUT DEFENDING THE ENGLISH! GTFOOH

  • MD~Contralto

    I have found myself in such a situation that fortunately
    ended with respectable results. In my case, I was the Non-Spanish speaking, Southern
    Caucasian companion of a beautiful Puerto Rican woman. I was invited to many of
    her family functions and I found them all to be intellectually intoxicating. “Guera” was one of the
    first descriptive words she directed toward me with much more endearing terms
    attached to it (I learned those quickly and with pleasure). I never felt out of
    place and most certainly never did feel as though I was being “talked about”
    because a happy family and friend’s body language speaks much louder than the “lost
    in translation” feeling. Now I do my utter best to delve into and educate
    myself in other languages and culture. However, though I find it very
    important to expand one’s knowledge in other cultures and languages, no matter the recipients “native tongue’, I most
    firmly believe it to be more important to perfect one’s own “native
    tongue” prior to slaughtering another.

    I have thoroughly enjoyed this topic. Thank you.

  • booginas

    I am a black, gay man , & my issue with speaking another language around someone who doesn’t speak the language, but everyone else in the group does is this . . . I have been in several situations at work— with Spanish speaking people & Haitian-speaking people (not sure if what they speak is Creole or what the proper term is for their language, so please forgive me) & the people in both groups were able to speak English well—- the Haitian women less so than the Spanish speaking women, but well enough. On one occassion, I walked into the room when the Haitian women were already in there and were speaking their native tongue to one another; which was fine. But soon as they saw me enter they abruptly stopped there conversation, looked me up and down, gave ea. other a look, started back talking and burst out giggling in their language, which I thought was weird. Now mind you, one of the women started working at the job months, before the other one, & I trained her myself, & I thought we were cool. Granted, I don’t believe they were talking about me, but it gave that IMPRESSION. With the Hispanic women (again, forgive me if “Hispanic” isn’t the proper term. I never was sure if you refer to a native-Spanish speaking person as Hispanic or Latin), I had trained one of them myself, about a year or two prior to the other one joining our workplace, and of course, she always spoke English around me. And very well, at that. We even hung out outside of work a couple of times, either it’d be I & just her; or I, her, & her children; & sometimes even her boyfriend. The other girl was also bi-lingual & spoke English very well. There would be times when all 3 of us would be together doing somethin’ at work, & they would be speaking English for the most part, then spontaneously, they would start talking in Spanish either for a few words here & there, or sometimes for extended periods of the conversation & both made me feel uncomfortable. Not because I felt they were talking about me, but because IT MADE ME FEEL LEFT OUT. It had nothing to do with me wanting to suppress them speaking their native tongue. And I think that was your friend’s issue with you at your party. Now, I wasn’t there, so I don’t know all the details, but from what I gleaned by reading your re-telling of it, that’s what it seemed like— or what resonated with me.
    Let’s just take language out of the equation for a minute & break this things down to it’s most basic level. Say your the new kid at a school, & to put it in perspective for you— and all Spanish speaking school. So everyone there speaks Spanish, therefore there’s no language barrier. Now, since your the new kid, that means you’re gonna have to go through the lovely chore of finding a table to sit at during lunch, & typically all the tables are already inhabited by specific cliques that were established before you arrived. One girl sees you sheepishly searching for someone who will allow you to join their group— at least for the day— so you don’t look like the painful misfit you are & waves you over to come join her and her friends. Relieved, you smile back at her and sit next to her on the end of the bench at her table. She introduces herself & goes around the table & introduces everyone else sitting there with you. Immediately after that, everyone goes right back into their various, individual conversations. Two girls are talking about how cute Esteban looked at the soccer game the previous night, two guys at the table are talking about some video game that just came out that they both can’t stop playing, and the girl next to you who invited you over to the table, is listening to the girl next to her tell her how much of a bitch Magdelena is & how much she love to take her down a peg or two. You’ve just been invited over to a table & nobody is bothering to include you in their conversation. So even though you all are speaking the same linguistic language, you still feel as if they’re speaking a foreign tongue because you aren’t privy to any of the subjects they’re discussing. And the kicker is you were INVITED over. That is a keyword.
    It would have been one thing if your friend had just invited herself over to your party & popped up. But the fact was you invited her over, then she gets there and realizes she can’t communicate with anyone, so in her head she’s pissed because she’s like “Well, why the hell did she invite me over here if I can’t communicate with anyone here, & nobody is even making an effort to include me in the conversation??” Like I said, I don’t know every detail of what went on at your party, but whether or not this was the case with your friend, as for my experiences, I can say the issue was about INCLUSION/ EXCLUSION. No one likes to feel left out. Couple that with being a natural outsider as I have been my entire life, & it has been a doubly painful issue I’ve had to deal with my entire life. The best way to understand someone else’s situation is to flip the script & put yourself in their shoes. Let’s say your friend had invited you to her party & you really only spoke Spanish & everyone there spoke English as a first language & spoke Spanish as their second language, & nobody there— including your friend who invited you— even bothered to make you feel included, even though they could’ve spoken your language it they had so chosen to do so.
    Maybe it’s just me, but I’m the kind of person, because of always having been an outsider myself, have most of the time, gone out of my way to make the new outsider feel comfortable. If that meant walking slower at a theme park & letting my friends walk ahead of us just so the new kid didn’t feel like they were being left behind. Or purposely changing the subject of a conversation to a topic I know the new person would be able to relate to, even if it wasn’t what I or anyone else in the group particularly wanted to talk about, just so they felt included. So I think that was your friend’s issue. She have said it in a stank manner, but who really wants to admit, muchless blurt out in front of a group of strangers, “Hey!! I feel left out over here!! Could you please include me.” It makes most people feel weak & needy to admit such, and nobody wants to come off as possessing either one of those traits.
    Personally, on another note, I wish I had learned Spanish in middle school & high school— it would’ve expanded my options in men, LOL. I LOVE Hispanic men. They are just beautiful to look at, & frankly, I don’t have to understand what they’re saying for their words to melt my draws off. But I will admit, if I met a guy I was interested & who was interested in me & he spoke a foreign language— no matter what it was— I would be afraid of allowing the relationship to develop because of the language barrier. It wouldn’t be fair for him to speak predominantly my language cuz I couldn’t understand his, though I wouldn’t mind speaking predominantly his language if I was fluent in it when it was just the two of us, or if we were around his friend & family. Though, if he was able to speak my language fluently, I’d ask they he would do so around friends to avoid the issue you and your friend experienced. The main reason I never latched onto Spanish when I was younger was because the grammar got too hard for me to form sentences when I took it in middle school. And then I had a white woman teaching it. Then in high school, I had a native Latina teacher, but my thing with her was it was a class for people who weren’t total beginners, but they weren’t at an intermediate level either, but she would speak it so fast that it all sounds like one long word to us, & we’d be like “Mrs. Enriquez, we are just trying to learn the basics & you’re speaking it to us like it’s our first language,” but she didn’t care, so therefore I just learned enough to pass the class & promptly forgot everything after it was over. With that being said, I have “messed around” with about two Hispanic guys in my life, but they could speak perfect English as well, so language wasn’t a barrier. Well, that’s a lie, cuz one of them was deaf. But we still understood ea. other perfectly where it mattered most, if you know what I mean. Anyhow. That’s a WHOLE NUTHA story . . . but if I found a guy I was considering getting serious about who spoke another language (long as he could still speak english good enough to communicate about most things until I caught on), I’d try to learn his language to enrich our relationship. As long as it was a pretty language like Spanish or French, LOL. I”m sorry, but some languages just are harsh to the ears, like German, Russian, & Asiatic languages. But if my beau spoke those one of those languages, I would still try to pick up enough to get by.
    Anyway, I hope my two lil’ cents (more like .25 with this little novella I’ve written) helps you or anyone else who’s been in this situation— and perhaps help some avoid finding themselves in it— better understand where people in your friends’ position are coming from. Be blessed!!