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Morena but I Ain't Latina: The Spanish Speaking, Non-Hispanic, Culture-loving, American Black gi

Wait! I quit my job to learn Spanish. Really?

Having been afraid to take Spanish classes at the college level in my freshman year, I missed the opportunity. Sophomore year, I picked up as many classes as I could. I was no scholar in these classes. Most of the time, I was too busy worried about sorority parties, what my boyfriend was doing, and how fast the weekend was coming, to really care as much as I should have back then. Somewhere between graduation and the realization that I was completely bored with my job, I decided that I was going to Spain.

My Travel to Spain Checklist:

  • Find a travel agent ✔

  • Book a flight ✔

  • Quit my job. ✔

Wait! What?!-- I quit my job to learn Spanish. Really? Did I mention that I was only going to be gone for two weeks? In hindsight this had to be one of the dumbest things I ever did. Why didn’t I just ask for vacation days? In my 22 year old naivety about how the work world is set up, I figured my manager would say no because I only technically had one week of vacation. Rather than face rejection, I took control of the situation and I quit! Nobody was going to tell me no (Yeah, Morgan that was smart). But this is what I wanted to do. I had promised myself that I was going to learn and I was going to do it in Spain, so I did.

In case you were wondering, authentic language learning in the U.S. can be difficult. You can feel like an outsider. “Your people” can make you feel like you’re trying to be someone that you’re not. The natives of whatever language you want to learn act as if you’re trying to infiltrate their fort of sacred heritage. Now, of course this isn’t true for everyone that you encounter. You'll certainly find some people along your journey that truly appreciate and admire your efforts. You will even inspire someone to start their own journey. But, be prepared.

When people don’t understand your passion for culture and specifically another language they start with weird inquires, silly jokes, and requests for you to say random words in your second language.

--- "You speak Spanish?"..."Say Somethin."---

So where are you from?

I'm American, obviously, right? Well, it turns out it’s not so obvious when you just start responding or speaking to people in Spanish, with an accent, No less. "So do your parents speak Spanish?", they ask. "No."-- "Does anyone in your family speak Spanish?"-- " No." "So…. Why do you? " "Because I want to.", I reply. And that's when the jokes start.

"So you think you're Latina now, huh?" "Do you only date Hispanic men?"

I mean, there was that one guy. Christian was his name. He chased me down in the streets of Madrid repeating “Morena Bonita!” just so I would attempt to talk to him.


"Hey Christian"

A Language Love Story

...The other day I was in the auto parts store grabbing some oil for my car. Whenever, I’m in the auto parts store, some guy takes one look at me and determines that that I have no clue what I’m doing and I must need help. I'm extremely grateful for these guys that assume that I need help in the auto parts store because most of the time, I do. –So the guy speaks to me as he passes and the conversation goes a little something like this:

Him: “Hola”

Me: “Hola. ¿Como estas?”

Him: “Bien, Y tú. ¿Necesitas ayuda?”

Me: “ Oh. No. Estoy bien gracias.

As I walked away he stood there for a few seconds watching. I imagine that he didn't expect to actually have a conversation with me. I live for those moments.

For those that have no clue what that conversation says, guess what... it doesn’t matter. The point is, there was a conversation had between a native speaker and I; The Spanish Speaking, non-Hispanic, Culture loving, American Black girl.

You probably think I’m super weird for even being so excited about this simple conversation, but that’s none of my business. I wouldn’t trade my ability to communicate in more than one language for anything else in the world.

So You Speak Spanish, Who Cares?

A lot of people! Even those that pretend to be unimpressed (I see you). My job searches are certainly not average, I get to tactfully eavesdrop on some pretty good chisme (gossip), I've tutored some great kids, and I've met some irreplaceable friends from all over the world.

People might think that I’m trying to be someone that I’m not. But what they don't realize is that knowing Spanish affords me with the opportunity to feel connected to other people that are culturally different than I am; especially those of African descent. Because being black is not just about being Black American.

This is me. Morena bonita.

Photography: Mia Greene