How does one lose an accent? coat the tongue in ice and watch the frosted muscle forget all its memories?
Mexico, a country which once included a third of the United States, is home to the largest Spanish speaking population in the world. My grandmother attended public school in Texas in the fifties, before it was legal to speak her native tongue in a classroom. As a child, my mother tells me I am “African American Mexican”. This means nothing to me. Often, she instructs me to speak like I have heritage, respect, a mouth of my own. But in Texas, Mexicans who speak Spanish are also called niggers.
1. Nigger wraps itself around the coils of my hair and speaks. The beginning of mirrors is the beginning of the end. I am six years old and ending all over.
2. 48% of the world’s black population resides in Latin America.
3. The first time I heard mariachis was in a restaurant, or at a parade, or an outdoor theater somewhere. I remember admiring the lone woman in the group, her green polyester, the way she made her whole body a song, the whole song a mountain, her mouth a red sun spilling with hurt.
4. Years later, at a play in my hometown of San Antonio, a stranger asks me a question in Spanish. I answer, pronouncing each syllable with the pride I inherited. Frustrating, how it is easier to communicate with a stranger than my own grandmother, that despite four and a half years of Spanish classes, I am still afraid that in front of my family, my shivering tongue will shake to a western rhythm, dry out, and die.
5. In Austin, it is normal to insult a Mexican street name, extract its religion and graze it irreverently down to Gwad-uh-loop instead of troubling oneself with Guadalupe, the patroness of Mexican people, la morena, dark like we are, sacred like our names have always been.
6. I am always amazed that the ability to forget history is a choice for some people, instead of an ancestral battle against hating the self and all its words for being.
7. Can you still be considered an immigrant if you are traveling to a place that was yours to begin with?
8. When I correct other people’s Spanish, I am often met with a laugh and the occasional “I’m white” as if that was an excuse to be anything but sorry.
9. Each letter in the Spanish alphabet will almost always make the same sound, no matter what word it appears in. Despite the excuses, pronunciation is not difficult.
10. My mother’s favorite mariachi song is “Volver, Volver”, a story of unrequited love and the desire to come home.
11. In times of crisis, the mouth will bake the air inside it, choose to remain silent to survive. The slow heat produces a small sun. To keep the sun from breaking on its way out of the mouth, the tongue must reacquaint itself with the work of legacy.
12. The work is never done.