Who Am I?

Image of Long Story Short Award - Fall 2020
Image of Creative Nonfiction

My mother’s tongue is precious to her. It clicks and snaps as her lips form her words. Sounds that I can only hear, but I can never make myself. My lips don’t make the shape hers do. My tongue doesn’t click on the same rhythm hers do. I become a broken record when I try to speak back to her. Merely a stutter resonates from my throat, but the words die in my thoughts, never reflected into her ears. “It’s fine,” she says. “You don’t need to understand.” She claims. But her tongue moves quickly, and her lips continue to contour into shapes I never knew existed. The sound that she utters is beautiful but mysterious. Wanting to be heard, but never understood. I stand there in shock, speechless but my mind is loud. Screaming at me to say something. Anything.
Her lips are not mine. Mine are different. Mine don’t belong to her nor to her family. Simply to others. My tongue clicks to a different beat; the speed of the clicking can never be as fast as hers. The snaps she makes in her words disappear on my lips, but when she speaks in my tongue, the snap is always there. Her mouth continues to move in the same undiscovered shapes when she speaks my tongue. Her vocal chords vibrate at different frequencies than mine. Her accent shines through in her words when she talks to my friend’s parents. But the admiration that I have for her lips do not appear in their eyes. I simply see a blank slate. They smile with a lack of understanding when my mother speaks to them. “Where are you from?” They ask her, and I see the pain in her eyes. She smiles a tired smile. Not from work, but the stress of needing to explain herself. Explain herself to her peers, to my father’s family, to the world. That she is different. That her lips move differently and her tongue snaps differently and her voice resonates differently. Her tongue moves differently. Her words come out stronger, her words come out faster, so fast that many times people ask “Can you repeat that?” Her accent is so strong that people wonder “When did you move to America?” I see her smile every time she gets that question. When I first saw it, it beamed. It was wide and her teeth peeked through her maroon lips whenever she answered. Her eyes became bright, with a spark in her eyes. But as time went on, her spark dimmed. Her smiled became smaller, darker, sadder.
So now she answers “I am from Mexico.” She says solemnly, but I can feel the heat radiating off of her as her heart thumps quickly: thump, thump...thump, thump. They simply nod their head and say goodbye to me, but to my mother, they simply wave, as if the words “goodbye” were too complicated for her to say back. She stays silent.
Now, mother speaks in my tongue. Her lips form the same shapes mine do. Her tongue makes the same clicks and snaps that mine can, that my friends can, that my friends parents can. She speaks slowly and carefully as she enunciates the words “hello” to make sure that her accent does not shine through. She speaks softer than she once did, to make sure that people did not misinterpret her tone to be anger. Her tongue became nonexistent to me, the beautiful sound dissipated from my life. The tongue of my mother was the tongue of my grandmother, the tongue of my family, my country, my culture. But that tongue has been cut, severed, and destroyed. With the simple words of “can, you repeat that?” I have lost my language.

*Inspired by true events/story, but characters within this story are completely fictional