“Bloque, Esto es un bloque,” Spanish Professor Tom Mathews said to a room full of bright faced freshmen while holding up a small wooden block.
I remember that being the first word I really learned in Spanish as I sat in that freshman Spanish class. While in that class, I never really considered the prospect of becoming fluent in another language. Though the class was fun, it would just be another credit on my transcript.
But a two-year LDS mission speaking Spanish and more college classes would prove freshman me very wrong.
Though it was unexpected, becoming multilingual has become more than just another skill in my life. Learning Spanish helped to change my perspective on the world we live in. Before learning Spanish, I am sad to admit I fell for the common biases surrounding Hispanic culture.
To be perfectly honest, I was a little racist. I always thought that Hispanics were weird, to the point that almost I thought less of them. In my mind, because I couldn’t understand them, they were inferior to me. Looking back on that now, I was ignorant and wrong to think that way.
As I developed the proper language skills, all of that changed rapidly.
The first thing that grabbed me about Hispanics was their pride, if at times boastful. Though they were a world away from their native countries, they carried a love for those places in their heart. Even to this day, I can’t walk into a marqueta and not see a sign that says, “Somos orgullosos a ser Hispano — We are proud to be Hispanics.”
The next thing that caught my attention was how truly diverse each Spanish speaker was. Unwitting freshman me fell for the stigma that all Hispanics love rice and beans while watching soccer on TV.
I learned quickly that no two countries are alike. You could put two different Mexican natives in front of me, and in five words, I could tell you how different they are. No two Hispanics are alike.
In the end, though, the Hispanic culture won me over with their love. I know it sounds a bit cheesy, but Hispanics really are some of the most warm and loving people in the world.
There are people who I can still call and be reminded that, to them, “Eres mi hijo. Te quiero — You are my son, I love you.” Those feelings, in any culture, are powerful enough to dissolve any of the barriers that exist between us.
Sure, I have another language to speak in my life, and that will always be a perk for me. But like many other areas in my life, I am boldly able to be connected to something greater.
Though I look like the biggest gringo you may ever meet, I feel that with my Spanish skills I will forever be more than that.