Thursday, November 12, 2009

Forgetting the English Language

My parents are both of Hispanic descent. My dad was born in Presidio, Durango, Mexico. My mom was born in Candelaria, Texas. So I know that since I was the first-born my parents must have spoken Spanish almost 100% of the time, so not sure when or how I learned English. When I entered first grade I didn't speak English, according to my mother.

When my sister Lisa was born she was a sickly baby. She wouldn't breastfeed and she couldn't hold down any of the various baby milk products available at the time. My mom who was and is a very devout Catholic said a prayer to the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos that if she would spare my sister and make her healthy she would one day make a trek to visit the church of the Virgin in Jalisco, Mexico. My sister's doctor knew that my sister was simply allergic to the various milk products and he kept having my mom try new ones until finally my sister was able to hold down a product called Similac, which I believe is still widely used today.

Now some would argue that it was the doctors and medicine and human intelligence that made my sister mom would argue that it was the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos who made her well, but whatever the case might be my sisters illness and then her subsequent health earned us a trip to Mexico! This occurred when I was about 8 years of age.

(Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos is located in the state of Jalisco, in central Mexico, 76 miles northeast of the city of Guadalajara. The small town of San Juan de los Lagos is the second most visited pilgrimage shrine in Mexico. The sanctuary's history begins in 1542 when Father Miguel de Bologna, a Spanish priest, brought a statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception to the village. The town was then called San Juan Mezquititlan Baptist but its name was changed to San Juan de Los Lagos in 1623. In that year the daughter of some local Indian peasants fell ill, her parents prayed for her health, and the young girl recovered. Following this miracle, the statue began to be venerated by an increasing number of pilgrims including Indians, Spanish and mestizo. During this period the statue acquired its own local identity as Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos. Between the early 17th century and the middle of the 19th century a pilgrimage fair was held each year on November 30 to celebrate the original installation of the statue in the shrine, today San Juanita de los Lagos is over 800 years old.)

(Image of Our Lady of San Juan De Los Lagos)

What I remember most about that trip, besides almost dying (but I'll get to that in a minute) is that my parents forbade us to speak English to anyone while we were in Mexico. My dad insisted that it would be rude for us to speak English in front of his family and friends when they didn't understand it.

I remember one day walking with my sister to this little store just around the corner from my dad's Tia Luz's house (this was the aunt that practically raised him and whom we were visiting). When we got to the store I asked the man behind the counter for a "peso of Chocolatines" which were chocolate covered peanuts. I kept ordering them a peso at a time which was just a small handful because I was amazed by the way the man would roll up a newspaper into a small ice cream cone shape, fold the bottom a couple of times so the shape would hold and pour the candies in the cone and hand them to me. I thought that was so cool as all I had ever seen were the small brown paper bags we used in the United States.

Now the man at the store was a very important man in their small village. He had been to the United States many times and he had bragged to all his friends how well he could speak English. Now this was small hole in the wall store and there were a few men sitting around the store on benches kind of like you see on TV in old westerns. The storekeeper wanted to show off while his friends were there by speaking English to us. But my sister and I were very obedient children :-) and we refused to speak English to him and his friends in the store made fun of him telling him that we wouldn't speak English to him as we didn't understand the gibberish he was saying because he really never knew how to speak English. I remember a lot of laughter but that memory has always stuck with me.

Now I speak both languages fluently because growing up at home we switched back and forth between English and Spanish and never even really noticed that we were doing that. You would think that would be confusing, and at times it was, but the really funny thing I remember is that when I was a kid, I thought that once I grew up I would forget how to speak English. I mean all of my relatives, aunts, uncles, grandparents and parents spoke Spanish only right? Yet at school everyone spoke English, so it stood to reason to me that once Hispanic people grew up they forgot how to speak English!

For the longest time I was so scared that when I grew up I would marry someone who wasn't Hispanic and only spoke English and that we would live happily ever after up until the time I got old enough to forget how to speak English! Can you believe that?

Now of course I know that isn't the case. I did marry someone who wasn't Hispanic and who only spoke English and we didn't end up living happily every after, but that had nothing to do with forgetting English!

It's odd the things that we believe when we are kids and the different way we see things isn't it? Do you have any memories of your childhood that now that you are an adult you wonder how you could have been so naive?

Ok, and the part about almost dying? Well you know how they say don't drink the water in Mexico or you will get Montezuma's Revenge? Well I probably did drink the water, but what I remember drinking was a soda pop called Fanta that was very popular in Mexico. I remember drinking an Orange Fanta and my parents say I got deathly ill and they had to bring a doctor to the hotel where we were staying in Mexico. I don't know what he did to make me feel better, but I guess I didn't die since I'm here now :-)


  1. Isn't it funny how that happens? I only speak spanish around my parents and their siblings but speak english to my cousins and (obviously) in everyday american life.

    After 3-4 years of college I went through a period where I spoke spanish so seldom I thought I'd forgotten it!

    You've inspired me to write my own post on being spanish yet american :)

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post, Alicia! How funny that you thought you'd forget how to speak English as an adult. It's stories like this that remind me to be patient with children because you never know what misconceptions they have. Thanks so much for telling this story. :)

  3. I've enjoyed reading your post as its main topic -languages- is a favorite of mine.

    Knowledge of more than one language is an asset, and mother tongue should be passed on from generation to generation.
    I hope your children and grandchildren all speak and write spanish.

    Of course. knowing more than one language also presents problems depending on how often the particular language is used. Efforts should be made by all involved (parents and children)to keep the language 'alive', never to forget it.

  4. I think it's wonderful to be able to speak more than one language. You're very fortunate.

    My daughter and her husband absolutely love Mexico, and they especially love Mexico City.

    (We have Fanta in Canada, too.)

  5. Anny - I look forward to reading your post on being both and being bilingual. I have a job now where I speak spanish 90% of my day...some days I feel like I've forgotten how to speak English, lol.

  6. Stine - Kids do believe strange things don't they, any many times they don't voice them, they just live with the fears and doubts.

  7. Duta - Language is a beautiful thing, it's what keeps us communicating. My daughter learned to speak Spanish, mostly so she could eavesdrop on conversations between myself & my mother, she's always been a very curious child. My son however doesn't speak as much, but I still think its in there somewhere. Someday when he needs it I think it will come out.

  8. Jo - It is great to speak both languages, a little confusing at times though. I haven't been to Mexico in years. Last time I went was more that 20 years ago, but I would love to visit Mexico City.

  9. Hey sis. I enjoyed the post. Very interesting. I'm suprised you did not add the trauma about the cow or the story about me being lost and then having mom and dad find me on the hip of the local drunk....who by the way was toting AND firing a pistol. Or about walking down to the local river to bath!

  10. Lisa - Yep, those stories would make another really good post. You're going to have to collaborate with me on that though. I guess I didn't mention them because the post was more about my fear as a child that I would forget how to speak English. But I'm glad you liked it.

  11. Comment sent to me in email from my cousin Norrie:

    Hi Licho/Licha: I remember calling you one of these names growing up. Which one was it? Hey I Love your stories! I still think you should try your talent as a writer. I’d buy your books. Maybe your book series could be Hispanic Families & their customs, traditions & unique morals and values. Hey, you could write script for George Lopez. Have you ever seen him in concert?
    Leonor Norrie

  12. Email response to Cousin Norrie:

    Hi Norrie,
    You used to call me Licho...I don't know why since I'm a girl but that's how I remember it.
    Thank you so much for the complement. I've always loved writing but I don't know if I have it in me to write a book. The good thing about the blog is that at any time I can contract with a company to have it bound into a book. Of course it wouldn't be published or distributed as a book, but it would make me happy to have something that my kids could have after I'm gone, even if it's only as a doorstop or

    I've never seen George Lopez in person, he's supposed to be here soon. Prieta's oldest boy Sean has met him & has a picture of them together. I'll ask Lisa to email it to you although I'm pretty sure it's on his myspace page.

    Love to all and hope you are all well!
    Thanks again,
    Your prima...Licho.


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