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Ranya, UIC B.S. in Integrated Health Studies and Political Science minor, 2022

From a young age, my mother would scold me for speaking in any language other than Spanish to her. I grew up in a mixed cultural setting, my mother is Mexican and my father is Palestinian. Both of my parents are immigrants; their gift to me was passing on their native language. To me, language is so much more than a method of communication—it is also a big part of my identity. But as I went from late childhood into early adolescence, I started to question whether or not I belonged into both of my cultural communities. Being that I arguably do not have the stereotypical features of a Mexican or Palestinian person, language was the one thing that kept me tied to my cultural roots.

I remember that when I entered freshman year of high school (also my first year in a CPS school), I was afraid to tell people that I spoke Spanish because I had often been excluded by the other kids because I was not "Arab" enough. I was also afraid of what Hispanics would think of me because I knew that no one would ever know I was Mexican judging by my appearance. As a result, I started to repress and hide my language abilities and stuck to speaking in English.

As I continued through high school, I started to learn the value of speaking other languages. I began making new Hispanic and Arab friends that would encourage me to speak Spanish and Arabic with them. My two Hispanic friends didn't treat me differently and would constantly encourage me to take pride in my culture, despite of what others thought.

I initially had wanted to take Spanish in high school for the "easy A", but I realized that learning a new language would not only broaden my cultural knowledge, but would also benefit others. I slowly began to take pride in the languages that I know and realized their value, especially in the real world. From then on, I started using the gift my parents had given me in order to strengthen my other abilities.

Once I entered college at UIC, I was still seeking for people that could relate to me because I still felt like I did not perfectly fit in. Shortly after I had moved into my dorm, I got to know my roommate. Her sister had mentioned that they spoke Spanish because their mother was Mexican and I immediately felt like I had found people that related to me. My roommate was half Mexican and spoke Spanish fluently just like me. Even though she would also make some mistakes in Spanish, her confidence really drove me to take pride in knowing Spanish. I have not taken any languages here at UIC but have gotten involved with the Latino Cultural Center and the Arab Cultural Center. I love attending their events, especially when they collaborate together to host poetry events (Noche de poetas).

Attending UIC has made me more confident when speaking to other native Arabic and Spanish speakers. Knowing Spanish and Arabic has allowed me to translate customer needs at work, help people express their concerns when they need a translator, and has opened many opportunities for me to make bonds with people and engage in conversations. I recently got involved in translating letters between orphaned children and their sponsors (from English to Spanish) for an organization called NPH. I see my language abilities coming in handy especially when I enter the medical field and begin working. I would love to work in different countries that are medically under-served; I think Arabic and Spanish would expand my opportunities.

Though I cannot say that my language abilities are perfect, I am slowly becoming more confident to start using Spanish and Arabic with my friends and people from my community. Although I almost always get a reaction when I start speaking in Spanish with native speakers, I realize that most people are accepting of me and are genuinely interested in knowing more about my background.

A few years ago, I would have been discouraged if someone corrected my mistakes. Now, I laugh them off and realize that my flaws will help me further improve my language abilities.

—Ranya, UIC B.S. in Integrated Health Studies and Political Science minor, 2022