I was asked if I had been treated differently because I spoke English. I’m afraid I have no way to know how I would have been treated if I didn’t, so the best I can do is to tell you what I sense from fellow Mexicans and how I feel about it.
To discriminate means to note or distinguish differences. So, yes, there is discrimination. I want to be very careful not to give this a value judgment. I’m not even sure we have decided if that’s what we want or that’s what we need to prevent, because on one side we are told to celebrate diversity, but on the other we don’t like the idea of being the different one. We like to stand out, but we also like to belong. So for now, let’s say it’s neither a good nor a bad thing… it just happens. Especially in a small community like Jefferson County, these differences are easily spotted. To make them just a little more obvious, there comes the language thing.
I suspect Mexicans have an English chip installed just waiting to be used. Of course I’m mainly kidding; the only software we actually have pre-installed is for salsa dancing. But my point is that we are very familiar with this language, I think. I studied English since my first day at school, like many other people in Mexico City. English is no stranger there. It’s in the movies we watch, in the music we sing, in the lessons at school and hopefully in your resume if you want a good job. I believe a large number of Chilangos manage it fairly well.
Now, one might think that the knowledge itself would be enough. That you either speak the language or you don’t. But there’s a lot more than grammar and vocabulary when it comes to truly understanding. There are cultural references, idioms, alternative meanings and different accents that in more than one occasion have made me shy no matter how much I’ve learned. So even when we might have some English background, it’s still very intimidating to be surrounded by it all the time. This leads me back to the insecurities that we face as foreigners and the negative connotation that we might end up giving to the discrimination I was talking about before. It isn’t that there is necessarily a problem with our English or our accent, but with our own lack of confidence. And that may be enough to make us feel vulnerable.
At the end, it doesn’t really matter if we receive certain treatment from others. What we’ll see is a reflection of what we really think about ourselves. For some of us the language discrimination may be a problem, for some it may be a challenge, and for some of us it’s just plain fun.