No matter where I am, people always make assumptions. Assumptions on my background, my first language, my education level, my social status, you name it. One of the most bothersome assumptions for me is what language I speak. It may seem harmless to you, but it has always brought up issues for me. Ok, so I'll give it to you- I look Colombian...or Mexican...or like i'm from some other Latin American country, but does that mean I MUST speak Spanish?
Growing up, I had a hard time dealing with this language barrier issue. Before I graduated college, if someone started to talk to me in Spanish 7,000 words per minute, I would try to discern what it was they were asking. When I attempted a response, I'd always get the same confused, bewildered look accompanied by the response, "Como??" Then I felt obliged to explain myself, and went into detail about how I was adopted when I was three months old by parents who didn't speak Spanish at all. I'd always get a sympathetic look from these strangers, like they felt sorry for me or something. These conversations never left a good feeling inside.
After college, I decided to change my routine. Instead of try to understand someone speaking fluently to me, I'd interrupt them and say that I spoke English, or I'd simply reply in English. They'd laugh and say, "Oh, I'm sorry, I just assumed you spoke Spanish." I'd shrug my shoulders like I had no clue why they'd assume such a thing and continue on my way. This still didn't make me feel better about myself, but at least I didn't get their pity.
I felt like I’d been a walking insult to my ethnicity for my entire life. I was the one who should be able to speak Spanish fluently, but my best friend could always rattle it off faster than I could...and she's white! I kept my mouth shut and never advanced because I never even tried. I was just too scared of the assumptions and the judgement that always followed. I didn't want to have to explain myself anymore because I felt terrible for “loosing” my Colombian background.
Now that I’m here in Colombia, things have started to change. The first few weeks, I was so used to feeling bad about not really knowing what being Colombian meant that I tried to hide the fact that I was born here. I didn’t want people to think I had shunned my Colombian heritage because I wasn’t fluent and couldn’t dance to salsa. But that feeling has started to disappear.
I’m proud to say I was born in Colombia now. I’m still not fluent and I'm still learning new salsa moves, but I can hold my own in Spanish and on the dance floor. People still try to guess where I’m from, and most of them know I’m Colombian, but just don’t understand why I’m speaking differently. I have no problem letting them know now that I’m here on a mission. Not one person here has made me feel bad about that. Everyone wishes me well, and even tries to offer advice or help in some way- be it teaching me the dances, finding a lawyer to help search for my birth mom, taking me to their barrios to experience life outside the tourist cities, filling me in on Colombia’s history, or just letting me know that Colombian women are some of the prettiest in the world- like I didn’t already know. ;) I must say, that does leave a good feeling inside.