It’s Hispanic Heritage Month, and I am still not that good at Spanish. I can understand it well, and if I’m comfortable, I can hold a decent conversation. Otherwise, I’m a bumbling mess, unable to string thoughts together at all. What that means for me is that I find it hard to call myself a Latino, even by the broadest of definitions. If I can’t even speak “Castellano,” as my relatives call their language, what claim do I have to the culture?
When I was born, Spanish was a constant presence in my house: my dad, an Argentine immigrant, was teaching it to my older brother and had every intention to teach it to me. There was one problem, though: I refused to talk. Developmental milestone after developmental milestone would pass, and not a word – English or Spanish – would come out of my mouth. Eventually, my parents brought me to the doctor, where I was diagnosed with a speech disorder and prescribed three treatments. The first: a dog. The second: speech therapy. The third: no more Spanish in the household.
So my house stopped speaking the language. My dad never stopped playing his Argentine songs, we never gave up eating empanadas and potato tortillas and my family is still late to every event ever— but beyond the occasional “cuidado” or “basta,” the language of our lives was English. My older brother forgot how to speak Spanish, and my three younger siblings were never even introduced to it as a concept.
Long story short: I grew up not knowing Spanish. For an Argentine-American, that’s not only awkward, but it’s also a real problem if you’re trying to communicate with the half of your family that still lives in Argentina. Every time I visit my father’s homeland, I can’t help but feel like I’m missing out, not only language-wise, but also culturally.
Maybe that's why I like “Revelación” so much. The EP, Selena Gomez’s first fully Spanish project, was released back in March of this year. It’s been a few months, and after sitting on the project for a while, I’ve really started to appreciate it. Like me, Gomez was born in the United States to a Hispanic dad and has lost her ability to speak Spanish fluently. Perhaps this is why “Revelación” resonates — it’s a bold, outspoken attempt to connect to a culture that frequently feels distant from within the homogeneous American influences that inundate us everyday.
Not to mention, the art “Revelación” is genuinely beautiful, created with the painstaking care of someone who really, really wants to do their culture justice. For example, watch the music video for the lead single “De Una Vez,” which recently got Gomez her first Latin Grammy nomination ever. Gorgeous cinematography aside, the video has Gomez in a floral dress plus some flowers in her hair, surrounded by a vivid array of pastels and surreal special effects, all in an extended reference to Frida Kahlo. The music video’s attention to detail and seamless integration of her culture shows Gomez's ability to be thoughtful about her heritage, an understated but important factor in a music industry that so often badly appropriates instead of appreciates.
Gomez’s return to her heritage is important to me because like her, I have long been trying to reconnect with my own heritage, especially through language. Nowadays, whenever I call my dad, we talk in Spanish, and one of my favorite pastimes is to talk with Argentine friends about everything from fernet con coca to Tini and Anya Taylor-Joy.
I know that I may never feel comfortable enough to call myself a Latino, but it’s nevertheless reassuring to see other American-born Latinos reclaiming the language of their parents. While I may never go so far as to create a whole album, just talking about this here in The Chronicle is important personally — only about 8% of people working in the American media industry are Latino, despite there being more than 50 million Spanish speakers in the county. The presence of Spanish in our culture has never been more important, so I applaud Selena Gomez for her effort in “Revelación.”
That’s exactly what this month is about for me — celebrating and reconnecting with our Hispanic heritage. And about that household Spanish ban — it’s now outdated medical advice. When I finally started speaking, it was to the family dog, and that skill would have to be refined in several years of speech therapy. Oh well.
Get The Dirt
Subscribe to our weekly email about what's trending at Duke