There were a couple strict rules in my house while I was growing up: All food must be eaten at the dinner table, keep your elbows off the dinner table and only speak Spanish at home.

“Hablen en español!” was often heard in the distance when my brother and I would be loudly discussing the latest My Chemical Romance music video that dropped on MTV.

My brothers and I could be fighting over something, and we would hear “Hablen en español!”

It wasn’t until recently that I discovered why my parents insisted we speak Spanish at home.

I have two lovely nieces who are budding into phenomenal young women. They get good grades, they’re both in soccer and dance and orchestra.

They’re also Mexican-American. And at Grandma’s house, the Spanish speaking rule is a little more relaxed than when I was growing up.

Typical.

Periodically, my voice would mimic my mom’s growing up. “Hablen en español!” I’d say to the girls.

But they’d ignore it. The two did know some Spanish growing up before hitting first grade. Then it went from some little Spanglish to purely communicating with my parents in English.

And with one of the girls, it seemed as the years progressed, she just refused to speak Spanish.

She understood it well enough to communicate with my parents but just would not speak Spanish.

At first, I thought my niece was ashamed to speak the language.

“She asked today if she or her family were going to be deported,” my mom said.

Well, what do you mean? She’s an American citizen! Who even told her that?

“Well, one of her classmates had asked her if she’s going to be deported if Donald Trump gets elected.”

Oh.

She wasn’t ashamed. It was so much worse than that.

She was afraid of the outcome of what speaking Spanish could do for her family and friends and herself.

Maybe I’m reaching, but it seems that my parents knew that perhaps if we didn’t speak and embrace Spanish at home, the same kind of fear would happen.

Fear of being scared to identify with being Mexican and our history and culture, ultimately abandoning our background.

And now, I have the same fear for not only my nieces, but others like her growing up in an area where some are culturally inept.

The fear, and especially ignorance, has spread much further than this incident over the last four years.

There’s not much more that I can do, but I can say, “Hablen en español,” or in Somali, or Arabic.

Embrace your culture and share it with others.

Let’s not let xenophobia repress a culturally rich state.

Diana Rojo-Garcia can be reached at (507) 344-6305 or drojogarcia@mankatofreepress.com.

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