Colorado State University GLBTQQA Resource Center Director Aaric Guerriero and second year journalism student Troy Wilkinson discuss the power of languages. We are all fluent in many, giving us access to certain communities. However, not being privy to a language can result in us being removed from the people closest to us. Listen to their conversation above, or read full transcript below.
Aaric Guerriero: I feel like there are very many languages I speak depending on where I am. There’s the language through a racial identity lens, and then language through a sexual orientation, gender lens. There’s language that I speak, personality-wise, as an introvert. So words and language for me shows up for me in so many facets of my life.
I was adopted from South America. My parents were very intentional about raising me, wanting me to be bilingual and honoring my country of origin and my birthplace. Both Spanish and English were spoken in the home of my parents. When I was in elementary school they had me in Spanish lessons, and I took Spanish all through high school and a few years in college, and had the opportunity to travel internationally to use that, but it’s been 10 years plus since that experience. And so I’ve felt like I’ve really lost that. In losing that I felt really invalidated in my racial identity.
People assume I can speak Spanish when they look at me, and when I say that I don’t their reaction is one usually of shock and disappointment. I’ve actually had people say, “Well, you’re not really Latino because you can’t speak Spanish. Or feeling like I can’t, or haven’t been able to, connect with my racial identity because of the language.
That part has been really difficult in figuring that out.
Troy: If you can’t speak a language within a culture, sometimes people within that culture are sometimes shocked that you can’t speak and will even go to the extent of saying, “You’re not really in this culture,” if you don’t speak that. I think that’s kind of like a super narrow-minded mindset.
I’m Malaysian and I’m also white. My mom will call up my grandparents, right, and it’s very interesting to hear them talk in, I think the language is, Hakkian. I think it’s really cool that they can speak like that. I can’t speak that language, and they don’t have the best hearing, right, so then it makes it very hard for me to communicate to my grandparents at all.
It’s a little bit odd because they’re the grandparents that definitely helped my parents raise me. It is kind of a thing that I wish I could more easily do, which is just connect with those people who have been with me since I was this blob of human. You know, that just needs to be taken care of. And they were there for me, right?
I think I communicate to my family — I tend to be a little bit more reserved. I’ve never been the type of person to just vocalize my feelings all the time. I’ve tended to kind of internalize a lot of stuff and feel a little bit more subtly and introduce nuance to a situation and communicate that with my family and sister.
Aaric: I think when it comes to my family and close relationships that that language shifts. I think as you said with your family, you know, you’re different and kind of quieter. That’s how I am with my family as well. We never really talked about feelings or identities or anything like that, and so it feels very awkward to talk about some of those things.
And as I grew up to feeling different, I knew that other people weren’t experiencing similar things. Then I picked up this secret language of sexual orientation, picking up terms and lingo that a different culture has. Mostly in college when I came out the first time, we didn’t say people, “LGBT.” We used code words, you know — are they “family?” And it wasn’t talked about. It was something that you could explore without a lot of fear that still exists of harassment.
Troy: Yeah, it’s interesting as a heterosexual cisgendered male, I have no concept of those languages that are within sexual orientation, because it’s the heteronormative stuff…
I like the point of you talking about languages in so many different areas. It’s not just vocalizing it in English, or in Spanish, or in Mandarin or something like that. It can be in sexual orientation or it can be in body language. It can be just human connection and emotion.
I read “The Alchemist” (by Paulo Coehlo) two months ago, and that was like, “Oh my gosh! They’re talking about, like, the ‘universal language’ like half the book.’”
And it’s really true. We all just want some connection. That’s the same language that we speak. We’re all on this earth, we just want to “talk” with another person, in any way that’s possible, and really be understood.
Produced and facilitated by Sara Hayden
Recorded in Fort Collins, Colo.
Date of recording March 31, 2016
Special thanks to Colorado State University’s Asian Pacific American Cultural Center and GLBTQQA Resource Center
Let’s Talk Story is a program where you’re invited to share an anecdote from your lived experiences in the form of a live conversation, short oral history, or written essay. The goal is to keep a record that connects the past to the present, and bring our stories to life. Participate here.