It was the year 2003, and boredom dominated my 8th grade Spanish Class. The room was dull, uninviting, and rather than pay attention, my mind engaged with all of life’s possible scenarios induced by pubescent angst. I spotted the kid next to me brushing white-out on his teeth, and to my surprise, I wasn’t surprised at all. The class was that boring. And then it happened, the scenario I feared most of all.
“Okay, tell you what! The entire class will walk out of here with an A if one of you can say the Spanish alphabet from beginning to end without looking at your notes.”, said the Spanish Teacher while folding his arms in frustration by the lack of attentiveness.
Every student shifted their attention in my direction. I stopped scribbling to look up from my desk. The eyes of my peers were beaming towards me in desperation. There was an expectation for me to accomplish this impossible task and be their hero.
“Jasmin, if one person in the class can say the entire alphabet in Spanish, everyone will walk out of here with an A. ” The Teacher looked at me with all of the enthusiasm in the world. Hopefulness glazed over his face. In his mind, indeed, the only Hispanic student in his class surely had the knowledge to do so.
“Come on, Jasmin! You can do this!” One classmate bravely cheered me on.
Suddenly the entire class began to chant my name.
“Jasmin! Jasmin! Jasmin!”
“I’m sorry I can’t.” I defeatedly murmured to the class. Their shouts of encouragement and pleas overpowered my soft-spoken voice. As someone who only had a handful of friends at the time, the cheers from my classmates felt uplifting. This feeling lasted only for a brief moment.
“Everyone quiet down and let Jasmin speak.” The Teacher silenced the room.
My heart raced, and I felt droplets of sweat forming on the top of my forehead. Everyone wanted me to save them, even the Teacher. After all, who doesn’t want an easy ‘A’? I started to say the alphabet.
“Aa, Bb, Cc, Ch, Dd….” I purposefully faded the sound of my voice as a ploy to cover up the fact I didn’t know what came after Dd.
“Speak up so we can hear you!” A student yelled from the other side of the class.
I sighed in defeat. My body trembled from the anxiety. “I’m sorry, Mr., I don’t know it.”
The Teacher palmed his face in response. The truth was revealed. I didn’t know how to speak Spanish, and everyone’s heroic view of me shattered. My classmates were groaning with disappointment as the bell rang. Amid the shuffle of packing away our things, I overheard some say, “Is she even Spanish?” “Why didn’t she just say the alphabet?” “We didn’t get the ‘A’ because of Jasmin!” I sat frozen in my seat and waited quietly as the teacher left the room. The cloak of shame dressed me that afternoon, and I wore it all the way home.
I had the nerve to wear my heritage as a badge of honor, yet I couldn’t speak the language of my ancestors who fought tooth and nail to make way for their children and their children’s children. “Is she even Spanish?” I’ve had to fight against this stigma my entire life.
Here’s my PG-13 response to this question years later:
No, I am not “Spanish”, but rather the product of two beautiful humans who are descendants from a pool of afro, euro, and native lineages in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic. I am beautifully mixed and have every right to be proud of where my heritage originated. My broken Spanish is not a disqualifier or a tool for your judgment on my worthiness. Last time I checked, we were all in the same class together. We should have all known the material by then. Why was I singled out? #DominiRican-Ish.
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