This is a formal apology to “no sabo” kids everywhere.
I have a vivid memory of a friend from kindergarten, Teresa, who was Latina like me. The physical juxtaposition of my brown skin and dark, curly hair, my friend Teresa had red hair and freckles on every inch of her face, but she spoke fluent Spanish. Although I had grown up speaking colloquial Spanish around the house, my grammar had not yet been perfected.
One day while playing during recess, my friend Teresa kept outrunning me. After chasing after her for a few minutes, I finally shouted at her, in near-exasperation, to “wait for me”, in my best Spanish, wanting to prove my fluency: “¡Espera para mi!”
She gave me a glance and laughed at my poor grammar, instantly correcting me: “Espérame!”
This moment obviously stayed with me well into my young adulthood. Although I can now look back at the incident with amusement, chuckling at an innocent interaction between two 6-year-old girls.
Speaking Spanish was a constant in my house growing up. Additionally, receiving a Spanish-immersion education allowed me to perfect my academic reading and writing.
I eventually felt so comfortable in my own fluency that I became just like Teresa, giggling at my peers who would improvise their translations, the most common being “no sabo” in lieu of “I don’t know” or “No sé.”
For many families in the Latinx community, there is more to it than not enrolling their children in a few Spanish classes.
So why do “no sabo” kids exist?
Historically, the generations who came before us living in the United States were othered and ridiculed for speaking Spanish, especially in the classroom.
In classrooms across the United States, Mexican-American students were punished for speaking Spanish, to the point where Spanish wasn’t allowed even in a student’s name. Eduardo became Edward, Maria became Mary, and Jorge became George.
This type of erasure was detrimental to the Chicanx and Latinx community assimilating to the U.S and led to the eradication of speaking Spanish in many households.
As a result, decades later, there are large groups of people who never heard Spanish being spoken in their household, through no fault of their own, or their antecedents.
Of U.S. Latinos, 36% are bilingual, 25% mainly use English and 38% mainly use Spanish. Among those who speak English, 59% are bilingual, according to PEW Research.
So, while the “no sabo” jokes are all in jest, there is a form of gatekeeping that emerges when even as children, we make fun of our peers for not being bilingual.
Not being fluent in a language that was only introduced to the lexicon of the Latinx community through colonization, does not make an individual any less tied to their own community.
Many of us will still experience racial profiling and microaggressions, regardless of whether or not we passed the AP Spanish Language Exam.
Many of us will still feel imposter syndrome in an academic or professional setting, regardless of our ability to roll our “r” sounds properly off our tongue.
The world outside our community is hard enough as it is, so it’s only fair that we give grace to those within our spaces, in solidarity.