When I was a little girl I didn't know how to pronounce my own name. Ridiculous but true.
The rolling "r" in Irene often proved so difficult for me to say in Spanish, that when asked my own name, I would either just say it in English in order to avoid the embarrassment, or just say my nickname, Cookie, (not the Spanish Cuqui, of course). I remember my mother drilling me, in Spanish, to repeat the refrain erre con erre cigarro (r and r, cigar) - in an effort to help me pronounce my own name. Although it did eventually help, I still to this day often feel that my tongue is often too large for my mouth, whenever I have to speak Spanish for any extended period of time. As my mother would often report "ella se traga la lengua" - literally meaning - (sigh) she swallows her tongue.
My problems with Spanish, however, not only centered on speaking but also on reading. For you see, I was never formally taught how to read in Spanish. As I have written about earlier, for a variety of reasons, my parents never signed me up for bilingual education, and so I received all of my classes in English. In all my years of schooling, I was only briefly enrolled in one Spanish class, which mostly involved signing songs. Later, when it was time to go to high school, I signed up to take French classes, because why would I want to sign up for Spanish, if I spoke that at home? That clearly was a mistake which I still pay for.
To this day, speaking and reading Spanish, while possible, don't come as naturally to me as English, which is a real source of frustration to me - although I do keep trying.
But sometimes that effort just feels pitiful and it makes me very m/sad. Today as I was writing a chapter on the status of psychology in Puerto Rico, I finally hit a wall,. I found a bunch of source documents and articles in Spanish but quickly realized that I needed some back up to decipher the material because my Spanish just wasn't all that sharp.
I felt so angry at how this all came to be.
I trained to become a psychologist because I wanted to do something useful with my life and to give back to my community, But nowhere, in all of my years of doctoral training, was I ever offered any course in Spanish. That is, while I was definitely exposed to multicultural counseling, I was never offered a course in Spanish medical and psychiatric terminology nor was I ever given the formal opportunity, while in training, to practice doing therapy in Spanish (perhaps because there was NO ONE who could actually supervise my sessions). Instead, I was offered lots of courses in statistics and perception - and so now, I can accurately perceive how little, indeed, was offered to me and can now validly assess the wretched state of my own field.
Dislocated from the island, my parents came to the U.S. with the hopes that my life here would be somehow better than if I was raised there. But in some respects, they were wrong. Being a colonial subject, means that although I was exposed to, and earned more, education than either my mother or father combined, this very education has, in fact, contributed to my own alienation. And so indeed Lorde was correct - the master's tools will not dismantle the master's house - and I must find another way.
So what to do now? well to proceed, as I always do, with my Spanish-online dictionary at hand, to help me translate and help me undo the education that has already been done.