SBS 301 Cultural Diversity         Fall 2001        Personal Memory Ethnographies


Rebecca Murillo
The Price Of Not Speaking Spanish

When I was eighteen years old and a senior in high school, I got a part-time job.  I worked for a family owned grocery store called Garciaís Market in Avondale as a cashier.  My dad knew the family and he thought it would be a good first time job for me.   At that time in my life I didnít speak Spanish very well, but I did understand some of the language.

Some of the customers that came in the store were people from Mexico who didnít speak any English at all.  At times it was difficult to communicate with some of the customers from this particular group of people.  Some of these customers were real rude and mean to me.  They would tell me things in Spanish like; I was stupid, that I was a coconut (brown on the outside, but white on the inside), a dumb white girl, and other mean things.

They told me that I should be ashamed of myself because I didnít speak Spanish.  I worked at this store on and off for about seven years.  During this whole time I would hear such things from recent American immigrants.

 I am a Mexican-American and people that were from the same country that my parentís families are from, were harassing me.  I didnít understand why they were mean to me simply because I didnít speak good Spanish.  I then started to wonder and asked my parents why I didnít speak fluent Spanish.  They told me that they thought that I was better off just speaking English.

After this eye opener, seeing how the immigrants treated me, that some of the people from Mexico didnít like the Mexicans from America who didnít speak Spanish, I felt uncomfortable to be around them.  I didnít like that they were putting me down and making fun of me because we were unable to communicate with each other.

After that I felt that since I was in the country that I was born in, it should be all right to speak only English if I wanted to.  I did want to speak fluent Spanish, but I wasnít brought up to.  Then I thought and felt that the immigrants should learn English if they want to live in America.  Because of the way I was treated by some of the people from Mexico who didnít speak English, I started to dislike most people from Mexico and resented them for a while.

In looking at the customerís perspective, they would shop at Garciaís Market where I had worked, because not only did it sell regular grocery items, it sold groceries and different items that catered to the Mexican people.  During this time, most stores did not cater to Mexicans.
Garciaís Market would carry yerbas, chorizo, menudo, tripas, oyas, piñatas, soap and cleaning stuff that was from Mexico, and many other items.  They could find just about everything that they bought back home in Mexico and purchase it at Garciaís Market.  The market sold food and items there that couldnít be found at a regular store, so that we Mexican people were able to prepare our Mexican food.

People would walk into the store and hear the Mexican music and sometimes the customers could smell the chorizo spice cooking in the back.  It was a very strong spicy smell of garlic, chili and chorizo mix.  They also sold piñatas, yerbas, candles, nick knacks, and all kinds of other things from Mexico.

In most of the shops in the town, there were people who could speak Spanish.  Not at Garciaís Market where I worked.   I didnít speak Spanish very well.  I only knew how to say some words and my American accent made me hard to understand.  I did know how to say in Spanish, how much things cost and what the total of the bill was.

The customers felt that since I was of Mexican descent, I should be able to speak the language of my people.  They also thought since I lived in a Spanish speaking community, I should have been able to speak Spanish.  Not only that, but since I was working in an environment that catered to the Mexican community, I should have spoken their language.  They would get so frustrated with me, because they were not fully able to communicate with me.

During the 60ís and the 70ís, students like Mom and Dad were made fun of and harassed for speaking Spanish in school and around the white people.  It was a real hard time for Mexican-American people, especially of school age.  White people would call a person speaking Spanish a wetback, spic, and other mean names.

Most Mexican-Americans were embarrassed and afraid to speak Spanish because of this, so when this generation became parents they brought up their children speaking English only.  My parents did not want any of their children to go through the same experience with prejudice that they did, so they thought it was best to speak only English.

They thought this because the white people gave anybody that was different from them a hard time.  For the Mexicans, they gave them a hard time if they spoke Spanish.  This is the reason why I do not speak fluent Spanish.

When I was working at Garciaís Market and the customers from Mexico made fun of me and gave me a hard time for only speaking English, this too happened during a hard time for Mexican-Americans.  This was when recent immigrants damned the Mexican-Americans if they spoke English and damned by Anglos if they spoke Spanish.

Because of the friendly store environment of Garciaís Market and catering to Mexican culture, Mexican customers enjoyed going shopping at Garciaís Market.  Maybe because I wasnít able to speak their language, I was bringing whiteness to their environment.  This could be why they were so rude to me for not being able to communicate with them.

 I am not into putting blame on anybody, but back in the 60ís and the 70ís, white people made it hard for people who were not white.  Then more recently, the Mexican-American people had a hard time because we were treated badly by both the White people and the Mexican people.

In conclusion, I was not able to communicate with the Mexican people that shopped at Garciaís Market because of prejudice that existed during the time in which I was brought up.  I think the reason why the people from Mexico gave the Mexican-American people a hard time is because they were assimilated Americans and were considered white or Anglo.  This was a hard time for the Mexican-Americans because they did not fit in with the white or the Mexican people.

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