Mexican white girl, doesn’t speak Spanish.

photo (3)Elysha O’Brien,
Las Vegas, NV.

Whites see me as Mexican, Mexicans view me as White because I don’t speak Spanish. I find it interesting that we don’t qualify other ethnic identities on the basis of language.

Featured on NPR’s Morning Edition Segment: Living in Two Worlds but with Just One Language

Keep the conversation going - comment and discuss with your thoughts

21 Responses to "Mexican white girl, doesn’t speak Spanish."
  1. Adria says:

    Congratulations on the Race Card Project, I just heard Elysha’s story and almost cried when she was talking about her grandmother. I appreciate having heard this story; I have to admit I have judged Latino-looking folks who don’t speak Spanish, thinking they were embarrassed (or their parents were) of their heritage. I understand better the struggle of early Latino immigrants. I immigrated to the US less than 10 years ago and I have been able to benefit from my ability to speak both English and Spanish. All my respect to Michelle Norris for this wonderful project and for Elysha for sharing her story. I wish you the best with your family and tell you that is never too late to learn Spanish 🙂

    • Roy Dahlin says:

      There’s no such thing as “Latino-looking” because it’s neither a color nor a race. This idea of “Latinos are all same because they’re all brown and Speak Spanish” is rooted in hypocritical, politically-motivated ignorance.

  2. Christopher Dork says:

    I have read Gabriel García Márquez in the original, have dreamed in Spanish and have taught Spanish to Latinos for many years and only started learning Spanish seriously in my late 20’s, and I have no degree of Hispanic ancestry. As a language teacher, I struggle against a very common misconception that seemed to be a subtext of what I heard on NPR this morning: that the only way to authentically master a language is to have it transmitted to you as an infant by your parents. I am living proof that this is simply not the case. I enjoyed her story and wish Ms. O’Brien well and wholeheartedly encourage her to embrace the Spanish language as an adult.

  3. richierit says:

    I completely commiserate with Elysha. I am Latino (Puerto Rican) born in RI, raised in NY and don’t speak Spanish. I find myself having to give an autobiographical account to people explaining how it’s possible that I don’t speak Spanish. I often close by asking my inquisitor what his/her ethnic background is. When they tell me I ask why they don’t speak THEIR language. A guy once retorted “because I speak American”.

  4. Coconut says:

    This is exactly why my mother didn’t teach my sister or me to speak Spanish. We grew up in the same small Central Texas town where she grew up and when she was in school, she got in trouble for speaking Spanish. She didn’t want us to go through the same treatment, and therefore made the decision not to teach us the language she and my father knew. Both of my parents were born in Texas and both were of Mexican decent and I, like Elysha O’Brien, am criticized for not knowing the language of my heritage. Once I was told, “you aren’t Mexican, Mexican, not REALLY Mexican.” One boss called me a Coconut, brown on the outside and white on the inside. I have always felt a great disconnect to my Mexican heritage especially now that I am an adult and work in a community where I would be better served to know how to speak Spanish.

  5. TinaGriego says:

    This is my story, as well, and I can particularly relate to the regret over not be able to speak with your grandma. I grew up not only with my grandparents, but my great-grandparents on my father’s side. They were born in New Mexico in the late 1800s. My great-grandma was a tiny woman with glasses that made her eyes look huge and hungry and I used to hide behind my mother when we visited. My mom would nudge me and I would offer my obligatory “how are you, grandma?” in Spanish and then retreat, having exhausted my vocabulary.

    To the question, “If you could speak to her, what would you say?” I would say, “Tell me your story, grandma.” And then I would write down every word so that I would never lose them again.

  6. Julia Perez says:

    I heard the report on NPR today. What wasn’t clear was if Elysha took the time and effort to learn Spanish. If it was important, then why not learn.

    • Half-Mexican says:

      While it may be important to some people, your choice of language is a part of your personal identity and a human right. What language you speak has nothing to do with the right to define your personal identity. I speak 4 languages, my wife 4 and my 12yo daughter 3, no matter how much of a language you speak does not change where you are from and what is recognized by the state otherwise I would have 4 nationalities and not two.

      • Julia Perez says:

        Hi, I agree with you. However, if you listen to her interview she’s resentful, bitter her parents didn’t teach her Spanish. This is her entire discussion..we’ll I say stop blaming and do something. She wasn’t denied a rare language, she had resources. .

  7. Satish Kamatkar says:

    The story hit home. I am first generation immigrant and a parent of two wonderful daughters. I am having hard time convincing my daughters to speak my native language. I often insist that they speak Marathi at home – my native language – from state of Maharashtra, India. Tonight I am going to have my daughters listen to this story. Hopefully they will understand the importance of being bilingual. Kudos to Michelle Norris and Elysha for sharing this story.

  8. Lydia Palma says:

    Listening to your story this morning I felt I was not alone. There are others out there who can relate. It is easy for others to say just learn to speak it. But they do not realize how difficult it can be in today’s world and the struggle we have of getting over our own fear of not belonging to one or the other. I am trying to move past fitting into just one and be me; Mexican, Italian and Irish. Like me or don’t; judge me if you want, laugh at my imperfect Spanish and Italian. Jsut with others could stop stereo typing me in every possible way. I am a human with a unique background of mixed cultures and experiences that don’t fit into any specific ethnic race. I am just me.

  9. Joe Bravo Contreras says:

    I heard this story on NPR via KCRW. I relate to this; it’s my story. My grandparents are still alive on my mothers side but it is sad that I can’t sit and communicate with them. I understand Spanish, but I can’t speak it. My vocabulary is very limited to “hola abuelo, abuela como estan?” English translation “hello grandpa, grandma how are you?” I wish I could sit with them and have them tell me their life stories and talk to them about mine. They are in their late 80s and so I know they have a vast array of life wisdom to pass on to us. It makes me sad.

    Growing up in white conservative Orange County, SoCal. It was blatantly obvious that speaking Spanish and being brownish was a no-no. So my mother made the greatest of efforts to avoid speaking her language with us, avoid passing down her culture to the point that she was emotionally absent throughout my childhood and youth — but the food, that’s the one thing I did get to enjoy! She wanted us to be “American”, whatever that meant to her then. I know she regrets it because we dont have a deep relationship. It’s hard to communicate when we dont speak the same language. This also makes me sad because I can’t share my deepest thoughts nor my life with her in a meaningful way. So a lot of the time when I go visit her, we simply sit together and enjoy the silent company without saying much to each other because there is lack of understanding.

  10. Vegas Bro says:

    Vegas bro here.

    Mexicans also view me as white. In school i was called white-boy, when i argued that i wasn’t white they told me to prove it by speaking Spanish. Alas i don’t know how to speak Spanish, and thus couldn’t prove a thing.

    Even my last name wasn’t enough since it could be warped somewhat to sound “Americanish”.

    In high-school i decided to give up and tell people i was white(sometimes i told people i was Russian or Canadian just for laughs).

    Now er’ days i consider myself full blown white. Even some of my closest friends think i’m white and don’t even question it.

    It’s kind of funny actually….

    • Roy Dahlin says:

      That’s right. You, Elysha, and the other 20 million “blancos” are not white because you don’t speak Spanish. No, you’re white because you had white ancestors, and they evidently spoke Spanish because it was their native tongue in their home countries. As an American, though, you’re only obligated to speak English. Any other language is your choice and anyone who has a problem with that probably shouldn’t be here.

      It’s infuriating how those racist hypocrites would insult you and other “gueros” by always assuming that the Spanish language was somehow indigenous to them and “not white” when it was originally spoken by white people.

  11. Amy says:

    Enjoyed hearing you on NPR today. I thought about my son and all that he has lost since we adopted him from Ethiopia. Lost Country, Lost Culture, American now. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Pancho says:

    I am a “Mexican white boy, doesn’t speak English,” who felt so wonderfully validated by your NPR story. Thank you!

    I grew up in Texas in the 60s and 70s – a difficult time and place for Latinos. I have struggled on many occasions to explain the complex history and family dynamics that leave me speechless in my native tongue. You so eloquently articulated your personal story, and in the process help me — and I’m sure innumerable others — realize that there are many of us who share your experiences and feelings.

    Thank you, again.

    P.S. As a kid I thought “Güero” was a special name my cousins from Mexico gave me.

  13. Michelle Ardillo says:

    I loved this interview, heard it while driving home form work the other day. Really enjoyed the story!

  14. Terry says:

    I especially enjoyI this broadI . The story effectively communicates the great loss one feels when they can’t speak their native tongue. It’s like having a hole in your soul. There’s a deep ache throbbing inside. You mourn because you’ve been disconnected from your roots and really don’t feel like a part of “American” society either. Elysha also explained the pressures everyone faces to speak English as your only language just to fit in. Elysha, please continue on your quest to learn Spanish. As an adult, it’s much harder to learn another language for a number of reasons. A person has to dedicate a tremendous amount of time and energy to the task. Although many people have lost sight of this fact, we have to remember the bottom line is we’re all human beings, and it’s our diversity makes us all very special!

  15. Jan says:

    I’m proud of my European ancestry and get mad when people tell me I’m not white because I’m Chilean when I’m 100% European. Spanish is a Euro language not one of Indians

  16. Roy Dahlin says:

    It doesn’t make sense at all to compare White with “Mexican” because Mexican is a nationality, not a race. If someone is White Mexican, that just means he or she is a white person with Mexican ancestry, not “half-white, half-Mexican” as mainstream ignorance would declare.
    Furthermore, it only makes sense to speak the language of the country you live in. If you’re an American, the only language you need to understand is English. Every group of past migrants understood this and passed it on to their American-born children. It should be understood by present and future migrants who have and wish to have American-born children as well. All this “guilt-tripping” just to pander to outsiders who refuse to assimilate is dangerous to cultural American unity.
    Multilingualism is a wonderful skill and can be very useful, but it should be a choice, not an obligation.

  17. Liz says:

    In the US, all that matters is that you speak, read and write English. Nothing to be ashamed of.

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