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What it means to be 'No Sabo'

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

After Mexico's men's soccer team won the Gold Cup this month, an ESPN Deportes reporter in Inglewood, Calif., approached fans dressed in Mexico's green jersey. He started interviewing a little boy who was wearing one, too, and introduced him in Spanish by saying, "Here is the future of Mexico. Come here, kid."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

JOSE DEL VALLE: (Speaking Spanish)?

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: My name?

MARTÍNEZ: The boy seemed confused, and the studio anchors commented that he doesn't understand. It's a generation that no longer speaks Spanish, they said. A Twitter post of the video went viral, saying, raise your kids not to be yo no sabo, which is a term that refers to a Latinx person who is not fluent in Spanish. I talked to two people who have had their own no sabo moments. Lucia Lainez is a bilingual speech language pathologist. Her family comes from Nicaragua.

LUCIA LAINEZ: I was able to communicate with my grandmother, for example, who spoke Spanish, but she always responded in English.

MARTÍNEZ: Also, Jacqueline Delgadillo, a writer born in Mexico and raised in Southern California.

JACQUELINE DELGADILLO: To go back to my home country and then feel like my Spanish wasn't good enough - it made me feel like I had failed in some way.

MARTÍNEZ: Delgadillo wrote a piece for Refinery29 titled, "Yo No Sabo: We're Redefining What It Means To Be A No Sabo Kid." And we talked about why Spanish is tied to Latinx identity.

DELGADILLO: I think because there's a wide assumption that Spanish is the main language spoken across Latin America, and so if you don't speak it, then you're not really Latina or you don't have the right to really claim that identity. But I think that's a huge misconception because there are so many languages that are spoken across Latin America. Spanish isn't even native to Latin America, right? And so to use it as, like, a metric of Latinidad is really - it's pretty ridiculous.

MARTÍNEZ: So who do you think, then, is to blame for your Spanish slipping to the point where you noticed it? Lucia, let's start with you. Is it your parents' fault? Is it your fault? Is it the culture's fault?

LAINEZ: My grandmother came in the '50s - my grandmother and my grandfather on my mom's side. My dad was an immigrant, and he came after the civil war in Nicaragua in the late '70s, early '80s. And so I did not have access to the culture of Nicaragua. And so when I think about who's to blame, I think about all the sentiments that my ancestors experienced in order to assimilate to the values here within America.

MARTÍNEZ: Do you think learning and knowing Spanish is critical to keeping your cultural traditions alive?

LAINEZ: I will say that being bilingual does not equate to being bicultural. Also, serving professionally as a bilingual speech language pathologist, we have educators in school districts, really throughout the country, that are pushing to dilute the curriculum and move away from celebrating diversity. There's this idea of, let's go and speak American.

DELGADILLO: I think rather than placing the blame on anyone, whether it's the individual or if it's their parents - like, I think it's our community responsibility to stop shaming each other for our language abilities and to understand that celebrating and embracing and passing on our culture can be done in many ways, not just through language.

MARTÍNEZ: So then what do you think it means to redefine what it means to be a no sabo kid?

DELGADILLO: I think that there is just so much shame around being a no sabo kid that to redefine it just means accepting where you're at and accepting, you know, how fluent you are in Spanish and letting go of that shame and not letting someone else decide for you how Latina you are or how much you can claim your culture.

MARTÍNEZ: Lucia, what about you? What does it mean to redefine what it means to be a no sabo kid?

LAINEZ: I feel like I am becoming my most authentic self. So if I can accept myself for what my journey has been, who I've become and who I want to continue to become, recognizing that I am a lifelong learner, recognizing that I come from descendants of very, very strong people that have had to learn many survival tactics in order for me to continue to thrive.

MARTÍNEZ: That's bilingual speech language pathologist Lucia Lainez and writer Jacqueline Delgadillo. Thanks to you both.

LAINEZ: Thank you very much.

DELGADILLO: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.