As an undergraduate student at the University of Chicago, I had always thought that when I studied abroad in Mexico, it would be to practice my Spanish – not any other language. Mexico was one of the many Latin American countries that I had colored in on the “map of Spanish-speaking countries” in my seventh-grade Spanish class, and I had never questioned whether or not that designation was a complete truth. But one Saturday in Juchitán, Oaxaca, I found myself trying to communicate in Spanish with an elderly hostel owner who seemed intent on not understanding me as I asked for a room. My frustration grew, as I perceived discrimination against my “gringa Spanish,” until the woman’s daughter came out, spoke to her mother in a language I had never before heard, and then attended to me with great care.
March 16, 2021