Why I Learned Spanish - One Latina's Story
By Amber Gonzales
My family is of Mexican ancestry, but has been in the US for many generations. My grandparents were native Spanish speakers, but did not teach my parents and their siblings the language.Learning the Spanish language was very important to me in building a sense of cultural identity. Growing up in a bicultural household that held both American and Mexican traditions and values, I always felt the gap of the Spanish language missing.
I began taking Spanish courses in high school and practiced what I’d learned at after school jobs were many of my co-workers were native speakers. I was immediately drawn by the ability to communicate with new people. It was exciting for me to become friends with people with whom I previously could not have held a conversation!
In college, I studied a semester in Central America. I spent the majority of the semester in Nicaragua, but also visited Honduras and El Salvador. The experience changed my life. By the time I arrived in Managua, Nicaragua in 2006, my Spanish language skills were developed enough that I was able to communicate well with my host family and others that I met. It was the relationships I built in the community where I stayed in Managua that really defined my stay in Central America. I was able to listen to their stories and share many of my own. I learned about the history of the region and could see the very real scars of civil war, both physical and emotional.
The accounts of young people around my age who grew up during the civil wars of Nicaragua and El Salvador were very dear to my heart. I could see the common bonds that make us all human, yet appreciate our very different experiences. It forced me to reflect deeply on my place in the global community as a US citizen, and what privileges that held. I could have never had such a fulfilling study abroad experience without the vital ability to communicate with my host community.
After college, my Spanish language skills have been essential to my professional success as well. Working in education, I have many students whose parents are monolingual Spanish speakers. I began my career as a college advisor to high school students, and later became a financial aid coordinator at the college level. I have found much gratification in being able to help parents understand their child’s educational choices in their native language. For many families, this is the first time that they have received such vital information in Spanish without relying on the student to interpret.
Studying the Spanish language as unlocked a whole new world of possibilities to me. It has enriched my life personally and professionally, and allowed me to build many important relationships with people who I could not have otherwise communicated with.