“Mine is a slightly funky ancestry: a Colombian mother, a Cuban father, a combination that leads many Latinos to say, “¡Que mezcla tan rara!” But even in saying the phrase myself, it’s clear that neither tongue works comfortably for me. My Spanish is passable, sure, but it is also glaringly self-conscious, mainly because it is a first language that began to fade during a boyhood in the South, despite my parents’ best efforts to preserve it. The fact that it evolved from a first language to a second one for lack of practice—for lack of commitment—evokes a mash of complicated feelings shared by anyone belonging to an immigrant family’s transitional generation who feels adrift between cultures. It begins as code-switching, but over time, the tools you need to switch back are harder to find.”
Paul Reyes is the editor of the Virginia Quarterly Review. He first delivered a version of this essay at the 2017 SFA Fall Symposium, which focused on El Sur Latino.