SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2014       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Janeth Solorio

Don’t Speak English?

You Don’t Belong Here

My parents are Mexican. They were both born and raised in Mexico. They didn’t move to the United States till they were in their late teens. They just had gotten married and were ready to start a family. They didn’t have a chance to go to school and learn the basics required for living in the United States, for example, learning English. When searching for jobs they would get lucky and get hired with companies who had many bilingual people. They learned the basics when other people who were actually from here put them on the spot. People would question my parents’ abilities and would rub in their faces trying to comprehend why they could not understand English. When growing up I would always translate for them trying to make their everyday life at ease without worrying that they were living in a foreign place without being able to communicate.


I moved to the United States when I was 15 years old. Even though I emigrated from Mexico at such a young age, I did not get the opportunity to go to school and learn English. Twenty years ago it was not a big deal if I did not speak English because I was doing what I came to this country to do, work. Years went by and I got married and had my children. Throughout the years I learned the basics of the English language. I know enough to survive the basic every day life scenarios but I cannot carry on a full conversation. As my children grew older, they would always translate for me when I needed some type of translation because are billingual. Due to this, I developed a dependency on them. Every time I had an appointment, Janeth was the first one to volunteer to go with me to translate.


When my parents went to parent/teacher conferences I would translate most of the time. I always told them the truth though, I never took advantage of the language barrier and I always told them exactly what teachers would say about me. At doctor visits it would be the same thing. One time my dad had a tumor in his back, and I had to give my parents the bad news. The doctor told me that his tumor was cancerous, so I had to explain to my parents what was going to happen. One time my father had to go to a doctor’s appointment with the oncologist. I was supposed to catch up with him at the office but I got held back due to traffic. He went ahead and went inside to check in and let them know he was there. Once inside he tried to tell the secretary that he had an appointment for Jose. With just knowing how to say “appointment” he felt confident that the secretary would know what he was there for and who he was. She kept saying “What?” “What? Speak proper.” “You live in America, speak English.”


As I tried to explain to the secretary that I had a doctor’s appointment, she started asking me questions. I couldn’t completely comprehend what was she was saying so I started to get nervous. She could see that I was nervous so she started questioning why I didn’t speak English. That I did understand. I could see it in her eyes that she looked at me as if I was an inferior immigrant to her. I had been in this country for more that 20 years, and I had never in my life seen so much hatred in someone’s eyes. She kept staring at me as if I was magically going to start having a full conversation with her in English. I felt so humiliated and embarrassed. I could see I was the only Hispanic in that office and did not belong there.  I had to make up my mind and decide if I should stay and feel humiliated throughout my whole appointment or leave and never come back. I decided to leave. 


My father felt humiliated, and left the office. That is when I arrived. I could see in his eyes that he was so ashamed that he just wanted to leave and go home. He told me he didn’t want to go to his appointment and wanted to reschedule. Not until we got home did I find out why he was so upset. I was horrified. I had never felt so angry in my life. I had never seen the effects of racism so in my face as on that day. Did the secretary talk to my father like that because he is Mexican? Or was it because he didn’t speak English? I was so upset. What happened to this country full of diversity? What happened to this county’s openness to other cultures? That is all I could think about.


Whites have always been the biggest race in the United States. In 2005 the Mexican-American population became the largest race in three states, California, Texas, and New Mexico.  That brought much tension to many states close to the border. In 2006 many protests starting throughout the country, which brought much attention to the Hispanic community.  Protestors wanted to have some type of immigration reform. It also brought tension to many white people who did not like Hispanics in “their” country. They saw even us-born Hispanics as problematic, and did not want them in their country. I remember hearing a lot of people saying that if Hispanics wanted to be here in the country they would need to learn English and if they wouldn’t learn the language then what’s the point of them living in the country.


I had never been in a situation like this. I mean this country is known to be the country where all different cultures come and make a new life here. Why did the secretary mistreat me? Am I an idiot? Is it because I’m Mexican? Does she hate me, and does she think I don’t belong here where I have lived and worked and raised my family for many years? I have never been so disappointed until today.


In 2010 Arizona, passed the SB 1070 law, which allowed police officers to combat illegal immigration through ethnic profiling. In other words anyone who appeared to be Hispanic could get pulled over and asked to prove proper documentation. With this law, any Hispanic could be, not only immigrants. With all this anti-immigrant sentiment going around it created a lot of tension among people in Arizona. Once I started noticing my family getting affected by this, I started to realize that I live in a state where many people believed that only being white is acceptable.


Not until my dad felt humiliated for not speaking English did I notice that there was is discrimination around. Back in 1998 Arizona passed a law that declared English to be the only official language to be spoken. This was so racist. This country is known for its diversity. On any day one can meet someone from a completely different country who probably doesn’t speak the same language as you, so why put someone down for that? Who defines what language is better? No one should put someone down just because they don’t speak the same language. Language barriers have always been around but it wasn’t till my dad went through it and was mistreated because of it, did I realize that this brought racism.


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