2024 Writing Scholarship winner

Pez sin agua

Written by Sydney L.

Sydney is a recipient of the Bob & Edie Green Writing Scholarship from Massachusetts traveling with Xperitas to Spain in 2024. Sydney's poignant essay explores the profound impact of language and cultural identity on her life. Her journey, marked by personal growth and a commitment to learning Spanish, resonates with the universal quest for understanding, connection, and a deeper appreciation of one's heritage. Dive into Sydney's compelling essay to explore her unique perspective on the transformative power of language and culture!

I come from a mixed background of a Honduran father and a Jamaican mother. See, my mom didn't have to teach me a language, since in Jamaica they speak patois, which is just broken English, and easily picked up. On the other hand, my dad is fluent in Spanish, however, never taught me.  All my life I have had to deal with the consequences of his decision. 

From a young age, my dad always told me;  "You're too young to learn two languages" or when I got older, "You never wanted to learn”. I’ve always wanted to learn Spanish, even as a child, in fact, I was obsessed with Dora. Although I only knew a few words I still used them! Eventually, I stopped watching Dora and started forgetting words, but Spanish still followed me around. Everyone speaks fluent Spanish, on my dad’s side, except for me. 

As a kid I lived in Waltham which has a high Guatemalan population, and even though I wasn’t Guatemalan I never felt different than everyone else, but I guess as a kid your ethnicity or what language you speak didn’t matter.  When I was in fourth grade I moved to Wayland, which is a predominantly white town and again it didn’t really matter then either.  Now that I am older it seems to matter.  I remember in middle school a teacher (who was Latina) was helping me turn in my computer for the summer. She asked if I was also Latina due to my last name, I said yes and she immediately assumed I knew Spanish. She started speaking to me; staring at her with confusion written all over my face, she realized I did not understand a word she was saying.  She looked back at me with a shameful or disappointed face.  As I get older these feelings have snowballed into hurt and frustration. Frustration because I couldn’t understand why…why didn’t my dad teach me Spanish?  Hurt because my father’s family made fun of me for not knowing, which made me feel different and singled out in the family.

The feelings worsened when my cousins moved from Honduras and they spoke English and Spanish fluently. We get along, but ever so often there is this empty feeling that I am out of place. It especially doesn't help that they tease me by calling me a white girl. Due to the pressure I feel from them teasing me, I often get frustrated with the fact that I wasn’t raised Bilingual, like them. However, this hurt and frustration has fueled me to learn Spanish. I am glad of how much growth I have made in Spanish class, even though my father or family didn't bother to teach me the language or culture. 

How many people are missing out on learning their culture from their families?  Having an understanding of other languages and cultures, especially your own, helps us to better connect to people in the world. Take a look at our country, America was made on the backs of immigrants, and a lot of them don’t speak any English. To know people, you have to get to know their culture, the foods they eat, their customs, their history, and their music…all of it. The best way to learn isn’t looking at a computer screen and researching information, yeah it might give you some insight, but the best thing you can do is to fully immerse yourself. 

I have been on both sides when it comes to cultural immersion. My mom has done a great job by fully submerging me in her culture by raising me to understand through her food, music, photos, and stories of her country.  I am proud to be Jamaican. On the other hand, my dad never spoke about Honduras, the language, nor made the food or introduced me to his culture.

Learning a language and about cultures can help people learn about each other, it can also help other people, like me, not have to go through the feeling of being out of place.

Recognizing her exceptional ability to articulate the significance of language in shaping our identities, we are thrilled to announce Sydney as a distinguished winner of the Bob & Edie Green Writing Scholarship, and thank Sydney for sharing her profound journey of self-discovery through language and culture. Her story serves as a poignant reminder of the impact that language and cultural immersion can have, aligning with the broader mission of Xperitas—to foster connections, understanding, and a sense of belonging through transformative language and cultural experiences. Congratulations, Sydney, for your well-deserved recognition, and thank you for inspiring us with your journey. May your story continue to resonate, encouraging others to embark on their own paths of linguistic and cultural exploration.