“Perdoname, cómo llego al Estadio UC Davis Health?”
I can only shrug my shoulders. Despite my surname and the color of my skin, I don’t speak Spanish.
(Fact: I used Google Translate to construct that first sentence.)
I’ve always felt a bit embarrassed by my lack of Spanish skills. My mother was a high school Spanish teacher and no matter how hard she tried, I never picked up the language. My usual “C” grades in Spanish classes made her cringe even more.
Still, I identify as Mexican-American. It’s part of the larger culture in which I was raised, even if I sometimes felt like an outsider. I’m unlike my parents who spent their formative years as migrant workers in California’s central valley, with hard-working parents who were born in Mexico.
I was often reminded about this while growing up in a Sacramento suburb with neighbors who were primarily Asian and Caucasian. Family holidays were spent with steaming pots of pozole and plenty of Spanish spoken around the table. Otherwise, I was just a typical suburban kid who wanted to skateboard and listen to Led Zeppelin albums.
But I became eager to learn more about my heritage as I grew. I took numerous classes in Chicano Studies during my UC Davis college years, understanding more about the history, triumphs and challenges that are part of my family’s wider background.
While I never did learn how to speak Spanish, I understand more that communities are not monoliths.
I think about this often when I’m in the midst of writing tasks for our office, and especially when helping prepare remarks for Chancellor May. The audiences we serve are so diverse, from current students, to alumni and faculty, and all those who are interested in learning more about the nation’s No. 4 public university.
So I try to not make presumptions about any particular group. The best approach for me is to talk with as many people as I can. In that interview process, I get a deeper sense of the myriad personal stories in our community and the uniqueness we all hold. We come from so many different backgrounds and experiences, but coming together in a place that values equity and mutual respect is always a story worth sharing.
But if I need to tell that story in Spanish, there’s a good chance that I’ll still need to start with Google Translate.