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  • Writer's pictureNatalia Madrigal

My Four Voices

I have accumulated at least four voices in the past six years. For that, I would like to credit my grandparents, Hannah Montana, Pilsen and La Grange. If it were not for them, I would not have collected so many versions of the voices, grammar, slang, dialects, tones, etc., that I’m constantly changing depending on my environment; leaving me to wonder what my real voice sounds like.

The first voice I have is the one my grandparents gave me. Due to my mom being a single working mother for the first 5 years of my life, I spent a wealth of time at my grandparents house down the block where my grandmother, who was a former teacher, spent her time showing me how to read, spell, add, subtract and speak — all in Spanish. My grandmother was always correcting my grammar and making sure that I was an eloquent Spanish speaker. I recall having some pretty unpleasant summers at my grandparents house for the sole reason that I knew it was going to be just like school every single day. “Necesitas practicar para que puedas ser inteligente y exitosa,” she’d assert. Despite my distaste for Spanish Judy Blume books and printable multiplication drill sheets, I’m grateful that my grandparents loved me enough to give me this voice; the one I use when I speak Spanish.

My second voice is attributed to the one, the only, Hannah Montana. Despite spending a majority of my time watching Spanish-dubbed versions of tv shows and movies, there was nothing I loved more than an evening at home sitting on my tiny pink Disney Princess chair watching and copying Hannah/Miley’s mannerisms, phrases and catty attitude (which I will still deny was Hannah’s fault to my parents). Watching Hannah and various other Disney and Nickelodeon tv shows gave me my more “American” voice. The voice I used to master my English and express myself the most. The voice I tend to use to this day.

My third voice was given to me by Pilsen, or more specifically, Orozco Academy, where I received my rudimentary education. I was a student there from Kindergarten to the very beginning of 6th grade, before I left Pilsen in the beginning of the school year. I spent kindergarten through third grade strictly learning in Spanish, before we switched to English. In the fourth grade, I was pulled out of my English class along with about seven other students to take a seventh grade English class (#egoboost). I was excited to be learning at a more advanced level and be able to read and write at a level that would challenge me. However, this combined with still being around my primarily Spanish-speaking classmates and a school that highly valued Latino culture, art and language, was how I mastered the art of Spanglish and as a result, developed my third voice.

My fourth voice was forced upon me by La Grange, a western suburb of Chicago where my middle and high school was located. I moved to Brookfield, Illinois in the sixth grade with the school year having already started. Living in Brookfield is fine. I don’t dislike it. It’s a somewhat diverse suburb, which is more than I can say for La Grange. I live on this little tiny sliver of Brookfield that’s very close to La Grange, meaning I got to go to school where the La Grange kids go. Experiencing my most formative years surrounded by White people in a pretty affluent suburb was definitely a culture shock. To me, poverty was the norm until I became surrounded by range rovers, FNL games, spray tans, mansions, microaggressions — the list goes on. It was certainly not the place where voices one and three were acceptable. And so, in an effort to not feel singled out, I adapted. When I’m at school or with a group of friends my voice sounds just like Emma’s! More “professional,” more socially acceptable, more white. A little less like Hannah Montana, and a little more like Hillary Clinton. I vividly remember voices one and three being revoked when my only other POC friend who I had the most in common with and related to the most about these feelings told me, “I know you’re Mexican, but when I talk to you I just don’t get that vibe from you.” I’m still trying to unpack that lol.

At this point, at the ripe age of 18, I still use voices one through four in different ways and I’ve learned to see nothing wrong with it from a semantics perspective. However one chooses to speak is completely valid despite any grammatical errors, code switching/meshing, or not having the highest level of literacy. The belief that there is a superior dialect when speaking is a dangerous disguise for believing that there is a superior group of people. Spelling, grammar, accents, dialects, etc., have nothing to do with language. Someone can make simple mistakes all day long and it has nothing to do with your ability to compose and communicate your thoughts in a meaningful way. Language isn’t necessarily our thoughts, but a reflection of them. When someone says “pero like” or uses the wrong version of “your,” it’s not your language or thoughts that are flawed, just the mirror that’s reflecting them. Some people’s mirrors are a little spotty or warped, but does that really matter? One’s errors in writing or speaking are far less serious than the error one is making when they believe you are less intelligent because of them.



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