A classmate contacted me via Twitter last night asking for my help on an assignment. It was for her Spanish class. She had to interview a native Spanish speaker and ask them about education and culture. My instinct was to ignore her, come up with an excuse, skip class, tell her off.
I avoided the message until the morning. I still wasn’t sure if I was going to do it. It made me so angry and uncomfortable that I could have easily refused without a dent in my conscience. But then I thought about the professor who assigned it. As students, we’re often held at the mercy of professors’ whims. We can follow along, fail, or clash with our professors at the risk of being blackballed academically. And the last few weeks isn’t a time to be trifling with professors and our grades. So I agreed.
The interview was fine, for the most part. I answered complex questions as simply as I could. I kept my Spanglish to a minimum, almost as if I was the one being graded. I kept telling this girl that her rough Spanish was fine because I’ve been socialized to protect gringos’ egos.
After the interview, she thanked me again and I asked her a little bit more about the assignment. Her teacher had in fact assigned her students to just go out and pester Spanish speakers for their assignment. My classmate expressed how she found it awkward and uncomfortable. I agreed, stating that it was problematic. That it’s not my job to educate my classmates. She said her professor should understand, she’s from Spain.
Of course. Speaking Spanish is cool if you’re from Spain I said bitterly. I should have expected this, that the original oppressors would continue to perpetuate the commodification of Latinxs. I can already picture her going over the audio of our interview thinking that my Spanish is too Americanized, too vulgar, too free.
This isn’t the first time I was used in this way for an assignment. A year ago a classmate asked me to say some words in Spanish so she could record my pronunciation. Her instructor had also assigned this.
I am a person, not a teaching tool. For years, I’ve been socialized to believe that I was. When I first came to West Virginia I secretly hoped that something in Spanish would come up so that I would be there to save the day and translate. To be useful. Because that’s how I’ve been taught to measure my worth in this country. By my usefulness and the exploitation of it.
I shouldn’t be expected to help my fellow students in the gentrification of Spanish. Because that’s the Spanish that is taught. Spain Spanish. The “official” Spanish. The “correct” Spanish. My Caribbean Spanish is constantly thrown aside, being called incorrect and “ghetto”, but then I’m expected to teach it to those who need language credits to graduate.
No más. Want a translation or a lesson? Pay me.