Since I first mentioned my Spanish capstone project on this blog, it’s changed a bit. Not drastically — my overall focus is still immigration, and I’m still reading a lot of books. But even though I’m still fine-tuning my thesis statement, I’ve already learned something valuable.
For background: I’m white. I grew up in a two-parent home. Both my parents are college-educated, and they have always earned sufficient income to give me and my two siblings everything we need, plus extracurriculars such as 4H, music lessons, and summer camps. Spanish language and culture has been an interest of mine since I was 8, and my parents had the means to allow me to learn. Now, I’m about to graduate college with a Spanish degree, with a highly commendable command of the language. I’m proud of this. And I’m grateful.
More background: for my capstone, I’m mostly focusing on the work of Esmeralda Santiago. Santiago, if you don’t know, is a Puerto Rican woman who moved with her family to the US when she was 13. She did not speak much English when she arrived. It was not her choice to move here, so unlike me, learning English wasn’t something she did for fun, or because it was interesting, or because she had dreams of being able to speak other languages. Santiago learned English because she couldn’t have survived here without it.
It hit me, as I was reading Santiago’s two memoirs, that for me, Spanish is a luxury.
I have worked hard at learning Spanish. I’ve worked hard for confidence and accuracy. Languages come fairly naturally to me, but it hasn’t all been easy or fun. I’ve continued my study of Spanish just as much to gain an advantage in the job market as I have because I enjoyed it. But that is the difference between Santiago, and every other Spanish-speaking immigrant, and I — I had a choice. I chose to study Spanish because I could, not because I had to. And I was not thrown into the Spanish-speaking world before I was ready.
One of my old roommates was also a Spanish major. She now works at a refugee resettlement organization, and teaches Spanish to kids after school. She uses Spanish all day, every day. Spanish, for her, is a talent and a passion, but also a way to do what she really wants to do, which is care for people. While Spanish may have started as an interest for her, now it is entwined with her purpose.
Honestly, that is my goal too. I want to be able to use Spanish in my daily life. One, because I enjoy it, and I’ve spent a lot of time learning it, but also because it enables me to expand the circle of people to whom I can be useful. Being able to speak Spanish opens me up to other parts of the world, and by extension those I’m connected with.
A few posts ago, I put up a graph of the results from a personality test I took. I scored very high on the “dutiful” aspect, which makes sense. When I realized that Spanish began as a luxury for me, I felt kind of spoiled. But then I thought about Bill Gates — his asset, now, is that he is very wealthy, and he puts his money to good use through philanthropy. While being able to speak a second language is a little different than being worth millions, I can try to turn my own luxury into something that is useful to the world as a whole.