EL PASO, Texas — “Can I have the rosa-pink sticker instead?” I would ask Miss Pat, my teacher at St. Mark’s when I was three years old. “I don’t like the amarillo-yellow one,” I would say.
Growing up as a three year old, I distinctively remember my obsession with “rosa-pink.” I wanted everything —from my Barbie’s dress to the color of my room— to be “rosa-pink.” My aunts and uncles knew me as “rosa-pink” because everything I owned was “rosa-pink.”
Strangely enough, I never really thought of the term “rosa-pink” to be an odd way to refer to the color pink. It was just the way my mother taught me how to say pink in both Spanish and English.
Nevertheless, learning how to speak in both languages never came as a challenge to me. My mother would speak to us in Spanish at home, while my father would speak to us in English, along with what we were taught in school. The challenges of speaking both languages became more evident the older I got.
Both of my parents were born in El Paso, Texas, but grew up right across the border in Ciudad Juárez. They always stressed that we are Mexican-Americans, born and raised in the United States, but of strong Mexican descent.
I grew up with a taste of both worlds, speaking English at school and speaking Spanish at home. However, learning how to speak both languages fluently came with a couple of social barriers.
We were always scolded for speaking in Spanish in school, whether it was in elementary, middle, or high school. So eventually, those who spoke Spanish were looked down upon.
Yet, when we would go to Juárez to visit family members, my brother, sister, and I would be teased by our cousins because our Spanish was not as good as theirs, or sometimes we would forget how to say certain words in Spanish correctly.
“If you forget how to say a word in Spanish, always ask,” my father would tell us. “Someone’s bound to help you out, and that’s the only way you will learn.”
Even though my forte is in English, I will forever thank my Mother for her “summer lessons” in Spanish grammar, because I can honestly say that I am bilingual, and can fluently speak both languages, with minor errors here and there.
What disappoints me, however, is the hostility El Pasoans can have for each other. Being a city surrounded by the Mexican culture, it seems to have created many subcultures that tend to dislike one another.
Chicanos in this region are proud of their Mexican heritage, but also proud of their American nationality and their tendencies to mix both Spanish and English, in what many Mexicans would call, “pochos.” It is looked down upon by people having grown up in Mexico, but practiced with pride by many Chicanos in El Paso, who resent the judgment.
It is a strange predicament, that we as El Pasoans face because so much judgment from both sides of the spectrum causes a tension, yet, we all come from the same origin, regardless of how long ago our parents or great-great grandparents came to the United States.
We are so influenced by the Mexican culture that you can literally get by without having to speak English in our city. Yet, why are we so adamant at judging one another?
We are a unique city, unlike any other in the nation. We have guacamole served at restaurants where rib eye steaks are served, and seeing the ice cream man drive around the neighborhood is not uncommon either. We know what it is like to see a mariachi band play as well as the Rolling Stones.
We are definitely unique and full of color, full of rosa-pink. Being able to speak two languages should be the most important thing we should be proud of. Being able to accept all people from different and similar backgrounds, is what we’re known for, but we still have some work to do on the inside.
So whether you call yourself, a Mexican American, a Chicano, an American or whatever floats your boat, we are all El Pasoans, living in the same city, and that is something to be proud of.