"OK, Dad. Why Did You Kill Spanish In Our Family?"

Father Killed Spanish Family Essay
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The following essay originally appeared on PRI's The World. Read the original story at their website.

My father killed Spanish years before I was born. Three years, in fact. 1978. The year my sister came into the world.

To the best of our knowledge, that's when Spanish in our family stopped. But I never knew why. 

My father is from Tegucigalpa, Honduras. He's a native Spanish speaker. No accent. It's this fluency that drives me crazy. He didn't pass down to us. As children, he only spoke to us in English.

We can roll our R's. 

But that's it. Everything else is filtered through a thick American accent. Today, our Spanish is... pathetic. We can barely say basic introductions. It's embarrassing. And I think it's a major loss. Dad could have given us a key to communicate fluently in two language. Instead, he installed a lock.

"I think he just, at that point in time, just didn't think that it was necessary or beneficial or interesting," says my sister, Kate.

But I wanted to know for sure. What were his reasons? Why let his mother tongue die? It's a scenario that plays out in plenty of families. How did it play out in my own?

I traveled across the US to find the answer. And I didn’t waste time.

 

"All right Dad, why did you kill Spanish in our family?"

That was my very first question.

All right, let me actually back up for a second. Because it will help you understand where Spanish in my family began. And that's 1923, the year my Grandma — Hortensia — came into the world.

She’s now 92 year old, and plays a pretty mean tango. She's a ball of joy. Always has been. At her house she takes out a scrapbook and points to a picture. It’s of a woman, wearing a floral dress and carrying a classical guitar. There's a red rose in her hair. I ask, playfully, who it is:

“It’s me when I was much younger,” she says to me in Spanish. “And I was playing the guitar!”

Just like my dad, Grandma was born in Honduras. But her parents died young. She wound up in an orphanage. And yet, she only really remembers good times.

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