“Yo Hablo Como Yo Quiero: Being Bilingual at Horace Mann”

Neeva Patel, Staff Writer

Ana Aguilar (11) discussed her experience learning Spanish in school as a native speaker in her Unity Week workshop titled “Yo Hablo Como Yo Quiero: Being Bilingual at Horace Mann.” Associate Director of the Office for Identity, Culture and Institutional Equity (ICIE) Bri’ana Odom advised the workshop and World Languages Department Chair Pilar Valencia’s Studies in Spanish class attended.  

Aguilar started the workshop with an activity: viewers were given the task of translating basic English words such as “cake”, “coat”, and “straw” into Spanish. While some students learned that cake in Spanish is “torta”, others used the word “pastel” or “tarta.” As someone who speaks Mexican-Spanish, Aguilar herself uses “pastel” when referring to cake. The point of the activity was to show how words change depending on what kind of Spanish you know or have been taught, Aguilar said. 

When Aguilar took Spanish in sixth grade, she found that students in her class would correct her if she used a word that was different from the definitions the class had been taught, she said. “When I am put in situations like these, I feel like my own culture is being corrected, and that I need to prove my identity to my peers,” she said. 

Students have also compared themselves to Aguilar, stating that they are “more Hispanic than her because they speak Spanish better”, although they fail to realize there are multiple ways to speak the language, she said. 

Not only have students made Aguilar feel uncomfortable about speaking Spanish, but teachers have also acted annoyed when she corrects their pronunciation on certain words, she said. “One time in class we were talking about cities in Mexico and my teacher referred to Oaxaca as o-ax-a when it is actually pronounced wuh-ha-kah,” she said. When Aguilar corrected them, her teacher blankly stared at her and proceeded to mispronounce the word, she said. Schools should focus on embracing linguistic differences rather than treating them as incorrect, Aguilar said. 

The second part of Aguilar’s workshop pointed out the biases that people, especially Americans, can have when it comes to the Spanish language. “The Spanish in our schools is usually connected to whiteness  because many people from Spain identify as white, and Catalan Spanish is often deemed ‘proper’,” Aguilar said. Catalan Spanish isn’t more formal than the Spanish spoken in other countries, and Aguilar hopes that students don’t correspond this formality with correctness, she said. 

Another problematic idea Aguilar found while completing research for her workshop was the prejudice towards Latines evident in schools. One of Aguilar’s presentation slides showed a picture from CNN of an activity that a school gave their students in their Spanish class. The sheet directed students to translate sentences like “you are Mexican and ugly” and “you are pretty and American”. “A lot of people don’t know that issues like this are happening at schools around the country, so including this piece of news really contributed to my presentation,” Aguilar said. 

Malcolm Furman (11), a student in Valencia’s class liked how Aguilar’s presentation used a combination of personal experiences, as well as outside research, he said. “I liked listening to Ana’s perspective because there are a lot of bilingual people in our school and I am sure that a lot of other people are encountering similar experiences,” Furman said. 

Leaving the workshop, Furman is more aware of the fact that there are different types of Spanish vocabulary and grammar in different countries around the world and no type is “incorrect”, he said. “I walked away with a better understanding of the experiences of bilingual people taking language classes at our school,” he said.