Escolha o seu idioma de preferência para tirar o máximo proveito das páginas do nosso Jornal:
English 日本語 Español Português

Fizemos muitas melhoras nas seções do nosso Jornal. Por favor, envie-nos a sua opinião ao escrever para!

half enough

Living in the "barrio"

I can get away with being Hispanic or Latina without even trying. In my neighborhood, known as the “barrio” of Los Angeles for its highly concentrated Hispanic population, I am not mistaken for a Mexican. I am Mexican. Because of my brunette head and facial features—more European than Mexican I’m told—I am spoken to in Spanish everywhere I go. At every grocery store (El Super, Vallarta Supermarket, Food 4 Less), King Taco (excluding the Pasadena branch), and bus stop in Boyle Heights.

“Veinte cinco, cuarenta dos,” the cashier at Food 4 Less tells me. That much I understand. 25 dollars and 42 cents. Numbers I’m ok with. There is no need to respond to the cashier after she tells me the total amount due. As long as I know how to count in Spanish, I can get away with being a Latina for the day in her eyes. It gets more complicated at restaurants. At King Taco, the cashier will ask me very fast in Spanish if I want my tacos with everything, would like a beverage, and whether it’s a takeout order. She says everything all at once and so fast that I just nod and say “Si! Si! Si!” I understand what she says, but can’t respond as quickly as a native speaker should or would. I’d rather eat in and prefer green salsa on the side over “salsa roja” but it takes me too long to put the phrase together. My order ends up in a to-go bag and my mouth is on fire from the red salsa on the tacos.

The most challenging of my Spanish conversation situations is when I’m at a bus stop or at the gym in the barrio. At the bus stop, I’ll usually encounter an older Hispanic woman waiting to head downtown. If I’m the only other female there, the woman will start a conversation with me in Spanish. I’m usually asked what time it is. (Telling time is another thing I can do confidently in Spanish.) I’ll look at my watch, tell her the time and give myself a pat on the back for having had a successful exchange of Spanish words. My last bus stop conversation was with an older Mexican woman. Our conversation involved the new Metro Gold Line under construction and the unreliability of bus lines in Los Angeles. She did most of the talking while I nodded and threw in an occasional “Si.”

When I went to the gym on Thanksgiving Day a woman on the treadmill next to me started talking to me in Spanish about how she wasn’t cooking anything this year. She talked so fast that I probably understood only half of what she said. Her daughter and son-in-law were cooking everything, turkey and all the trimmings. It was her first Thanksgiving outside of the kitchen. When she finished her treadmill workout, she told me she was on her way home because she couldn’t help but think that the turkey might burn in the oven and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. She did most of the talking. I smiled and nodded as I jogged on the treadmill. Afraid she might figure out that I didn’t understand everything she said—because I didn’t—I jogged faster to make like I didn’t have enough breath to talk. It worked.

It’s at these times—at the bus stop and the gym—that I wish my Spanish were better so I could equally and comfortably take part in the conversation as I do in English.

Growing up in the East L.A. barrio, I feel a natural connection to Mexican culture. There is straightforwardness in how people interact, even with those you meet for the first time. It’s like everyone’s family. When I compare Mexican to Japanese culture, social interaction is much different. Family values in both are strong but you would never see two Japanese strangers meeting for the first time hug and give each other a kiss on the cheek.

Mexican food has also become a part of my identity. When I’m away from home for longer than a month, I especially miss my favorite authentic Mexican tacos from King Taco. Mexican fast food restaurants throughout the United States don’t come close to what East Los Angeles offers.

The advantages of being “half” are that I have multiple identities, all of which I have some cultural connection to. I’m not lying to the woman at the bus stop who thinks I speak Spanish because I do speak it, just not as well as she might assume.

The more I practice my Spanish, the more I feel connected to my neighbors in my barrio. Language plays a large part in how I identify myself culturally. Speaking Spanish allows me to be a part of the Mexican community even though I am not Mexican. Looking the part isn’t enough to feel it. Now, I just need to memorize my Spanish response on my next visit to King Taco. “Salsa verde aparte, un vaso de agua, y para aquí, por favor.” (Mild green salsa on the side, a cup of water, and eat in.)

© 2006 Victoria Kraus

boyle heights california hapa identity language Los Angeles multiracial

Sobre esta série

"Half Enough" is Victoria's first regular column series. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of Discover Nikkei.