A note from the playwright:
The first time I got The Look, I was in 6th grade. I had been, before that moment, the only Hispanic kid in my grade level. It was a point of pride, being the "MexiRican" representative, but a new student had just moved to our small, mostly-white, Midwest town from Mexico, and the thought of having a compatriot who looked like me was a thrill and a comfort that I hadn't even realized I'd hoped for. "Hi, I'm David, and I'm Mexican too," I told her. Her eyes lit up. "Oh," she said, "habla español?" Shrinking, I told her no, and that I was sorry. Then--for the first of what would be many times--I got The Look.
I Don't Speak Spanish is a story that's taken place across the lives of several generations of Latinx Americans (and all the other names we've tried to fit under), who've struggled in the in-betweens of identity, assimilation, race, and class. For most of my life, I thought the anxiety and guilt I felt over not knowing and not having been taught Spanish was just a personal insecurity, and it was something I never spoke about. But in 2017, my brother, Joel, confessed these same feelings to me, even describing The Look--a mixture of disappointment, contempt, and pity--that native speakers often give to us Latines who don't have the language. This feeling of disconnection--of unrootedness--is compounded for those of us who visually and ethnically are not white. We are made to know, by our communities, that we are an other. But when we try to connect with the community we supposedly belong to, we often find that we don't have a place there either. Neither this, nor that, but imagined to be both.
Upon learning that even one other person felt this pull, this uncomfortable duality, I set out to learn more. Why didn't we speak Spanish? When had it left our family? And why? How many other people are living in this in-between and not talking about it?
Inspired by my own family story but elevated by the stories of countless others, I Don't Speak Spanish is the result of dozens of interviews with individuals about their own relationships with the language and identity; of correspondence with scholars of race, history, philosophy, and language; and of many, many hours of research and soul-searching. It is a story that spans 100 years of US history, yet pushes forward with immediacy and urgency. It is my story, it is many of our stories, and sharing it--I've learned--is an act of healing. Thank you for joining us in that act.