Column: Rethink everything: Bilingual by necessity, not by choice

Editor’s Column

Mauricio is the REV Editor in Chief for Ethic News.


Small images compiled together are meant to signify each important person, character, or song that has impacted my life with a quote or phrase. (MAURICIO PLIEGO/ Ethic News Photo)

If you think about it, everyone talks about being a bilingual student as this great thing that leads to many opportunities in life, but the reality is that it takes many years full of obstacles to even remotely get to these “positive” things. 

When I say bilingual, I don’t mean taking four years of Spanish or French or German, or Latin in high school. I mean being born into a family that mainly speaks another language that forces you into learning a second language while learning English growing up. 

Both of my parents were born in Mexico and emigrated to the United States in the early 2000s. The most school that either of them had is equivalent to middle school education here in the States, which heavily affected me whenever I needed help with my homework.

Growing up, I had difficulty understanding both Spanish and English and it became an issue in my education when I could not speak without having a major stutter. From the first to fifth grade, I had to take an hour of my regular class in elementary school to go to speech therapy. This of course led to me missing out on day-to-day learning to spend time in a room with someone just to get nowhere for almost five years. 

Imagine raising a child in a foreign country where you do not speak the same language as everyone else. My parents know the feeling and in some ways are experimenting to this day to see what that entails. 

As a young child, I wanted to go to a diner like an Ihop or a Denny’s but how could they? They didn’t speak English and the workers only spoke English. Keep in mind it was the early 2000s before there was a big push to get someone that speaks multiple languages to different jobs. They took me to an IHOP where every server only spoke English so they brought out a Guatemalan dishwasher from the back. Funnily enough, he only spoke Spanish so we were back to square one. 

From a young age, I struggled with homework, so my mom paid high school kids from around the block to come and tutor me. I remember for the first grade, one of the concepts for the year was learning how to count money and I struggled. The teacher just got frustrated with me and had a parent-teacher conference to tell my mom how I was struggling and what I was doing at home to improve.  Not the most productive when my mom did not understand what she said. I think that the teacher got the message when she realized there was a language barrier.

For many years, I struggled with juggling the two languages. Outside of school, Spanish was the default language in almost everything. After school, weekends, winter break, spring break, and summer break. Two months of vacation was great during the school year until you have to come back to school and remember how to speak and write in perfect grammar. In a way, the only way I kept my English “alive” was by watching TV. I would mimic the characters from shows like Phineas and Ferb, Spongebob, Drake and Josh, and ICarly. I learned plenty too, maybe not life lessons, but generally how to speak. 

Every year, I have always tried to get better and generally push myself to make my parents’ lives easier. In a way, I have always focused on not being a problem for them because I felt that they have enough to deal with. This was the internal pressure that I had maintained for years to make sure I was “perfect” in every way. This would lead to having a “crash” at some point during the COVID-19 pandemic where I gave up on so many things to feel like I had some grasp on my life.

The point of all of this is not for you to have pity. I don’t want any of that. The point is, I want you to understand that everyone is facing problems where the majority of them are invisible to even their closest friends and family.

I worked as a server at two different local Denny’s locations and I learned a lot. The next time you are in a restaurant, pay attention to your surroundings. Each booth and each table has different people sitting there having different conversations. Some people are in love and just about to marry, some are young adults doing homework for a college class, or even an older person may be sitting there missing their loved one that may have passed. I think the culture here is simply to think about yourself but maybe if you open up, you could learn so much more about the world.

A quote from the video game Red Dead Redemption where the protagonist is facing the end of his story and has a conversation with a nun to see where he should follow through. (MAURICIO PLIEGO/ Ethic News Photo)

Directly Translated: I thought life was different, When I was little I believed that things were easy like yesterday. A small portion of the song Los Caminos De La Vida written by a Colombian band La Gente de Omar Geles. (MAURICIO PLIEGO/ Ethic News Photo)

A quote from the movie Avengers: Endgame where Tony Stark quotes his father as he realizes that his father only wanted the best for him. (MAURICIO PLIEGO/ Ethic News Photo)

Coming from the 1997 movie, Selena, her father is quoted to explain the pressure Mexican-Americans are faced from both sides of the border. (MAURICIO PLIEGO/ Ethic News Photo)

George Feeny was a consistent character in the famous sitcom TV Show Boy Meets World as he is depicted as a wise teacher whom the other characters find for advice. (MAURICIO PLIEGO/ Ethic News Photo)

Uncle Iroh was a wise older character that was known for his advice about destiny and life in general for all characters in Avatar: The Last Airbender. (MAURICIO PLIEGO/ Ethic News Photo)

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