By Storyteller OLGA LOYA
At school Olga was taught to be American first and not to speak Spanish. If she did, she risked being punished. At the same time, Olga’s Japanese-American friends went to an after school program to learn the Japanese language and to study Japanese culture. Olga wondered why she didn’t have something like that and how she could straddle multiple worlds.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Between-Worlds
- What are some different ways of being in Nepantla (between worlds)? For example, a teenager is neither a child nor a full adult. A child of divorced parents may feel as if he or she travels to different planets as he/she moves from one house to another.
- How do people keep their sense of self when they feel they are between worlds?
- What is your Nepantla?
- Borderlands / La Frontera: The New Mestiza by Gloria Evangeline Anzaldúa
- Nepantla: Essays from the Land in the Middle by Pat Mora
- I am Latino: The Beauty in Me by Sandra L. Pinkney and Myles C. Pinkney
- Crossing Cultures
- Family and Childhood
- Latino American/Latinos
Hi. My name is Olga Loya and this is an excerpt from a longer story called Nepantla: Between Worlds. This story takes place in the late 1940s and early 1950s in East Los Angeles.
English . . . Spanish. American . . . Mexican. Spanish . . . English. Mexican . . . American. All my life I felt like I was straddling worlds and I could never seem to find my balance. I had never even put it into words but I knew I didn’t quite fit anywhere.
One day I met a woman who was putting up an art show called Nepantla.
As we talked I asked her, “What does Nepantla mean?”
She said, “It is a Nahuatl term. Nahuatl is the ancient and still-used language of Mexico. It is the language that the Aztecs spoke and speak. Nepantla means “between worlds.”
I stared at her for a while, just thinking.
“Nepantla,” I repeated. “Nepantla—between worlds.”
For the first time, I had a word for what I had been feeling all those years!
I thought, “I have been in a state of Nepantla all my life.”
Where I grew up there were many Mexicans and some Japanese and Jewish people. I knew I wasn’t Japanese or Jewish but I wasn’t sure about being Mexican. I was six years old when I went to my mother and asked her, “Mamá, am I Mexican?”
She looked at me for a long time and then she said, “Yes and no, Mijita, little one.”
“Yes and no?”
“Yes and no.”
“What does „yes and no’ mean?”
“You are Mexican but you are American. You were born here in Los Angeles, California in the United States. You are a Mexican American just like your father and me.”
“Oh, okay, Mamá.”
I decided to ask my Grandma Loya, too. Of everyone in the family, I trusted her the most. I loved being with her and I wanted to see what she had to say.
I went to my abuelita, grandmother, and asked her, “Abuelita, soy Mexicana, Grandmother, am I Mexican?”
Making the sign of the cross, she said, “Que dios te bendiga, May God bless you. Ay si mijita, oh, yes, my little one, sus bis abuelos, y yo y tus otro abuelos vienen de Chihuahua, México. Ay, si, mijitia, eres Mejicana. Your great grandparents and grandparents and I come from Chihuahua, Mexico. Vives aquí en America pero eres Mejicana! You live here in America, but you are Mexican!”
I was living in East Los Angeles where everyone spoke Spanish. Well, at least the adults spoke Spanish to each other, but they didn’t speak Spanish to us children.
They didn’t speak Spanish to be mean or to deprive us of our cultura. They wanted us to fit in, not to have an accento. They wanted us to be Americanos!
It was the 50’s and schools didn’t allow you to speak Spanish either. If a student spoke Spanish, the teachers scolded, “Don’t speak Spanish in school!” If a student continued speaking Spanish, the student got sent to the Vice Principal. The Vice Principal made the student wait and wait. Finally, the Vice Principal called the student into his office and said, “Didn’t we tell you not to speak Spanish in school!?! Why can’t you people understand?”
If a student kept speaking Spanish, the Vice Principal came to the classroom and stood in the front of the room. He said to the one who had been speaking Spanish, “Come to the front of the classroom—now.”
The student would go to the front of the classroom shaking. Then the student put his or her hand out for what was going to happen. “Whap!” The Vice Principal hit the student on the hand. If the student moved the hand away, the Vice Principal hit again, even harder.
I thought to myself, “Chihuahua, this Spanish is dangerous!”
At the same time that I was not allowed to speak Spanish, I was hanging around with my Japanese friends. All through elementary school, at least once a week they went to a Japanese after school program. Sometimes I went with them. I sat and listened to the lessons about their culture and their language.
As I listened I wondered, “So, where are the Mexican after-school programs? How come nobody is showing me about my culture and my language? What’s wrong with us that everyone acts so ashamed?
I was filled with questions and I didn’t know who to ask. When I tried to ask my family questions, everyone said, “Don’t ask so many questions. You don’t need to know that stuff.”
I was in the sixth grade and still didn’t have a sense of myself.
I just didn’t know where I belonged, but I wanted to find out.
By Storyteller OLGA LOYA
In high school, Olga was told by her counselor that her family was too poor for her to go to College. Hear how she found a way around this negative advice.
For a print friendly version of the transcript, click here: Why-Do-You-Want-To-Go-To-College
- Have you ever had someone give you negative advice? How did you respond?
- What is a good way to handle negative advice?
- What were the “favors” Olga’s counselor and shorthand teacher did for her?
- Why did the college students make fun of Olga?
- What was Olga’s reaction?’
- Growing up in East Los Angeles by Olga Loya
- Land of the Cosmic Race by Christina A Sue
- Mexican White Boy by Matt de la Pena
- Who Are You? By Mimi Fox
- Crossing Cultures
- Education and Life Lessons
- Family and Childhood
- Latino American/Latinos
- Stereotypes and Discrimination
Hi. My name is Olga Loya and this is an excerpt from a longer story called Nepantla: Between Worlds.
The story takes place in East Los Angeles in the 1950s. When I went to high school, I realized I wanted to go to college. I talked to my girlfriends about it, and they said, “Why do you want to go to college? Don’t you want to get married and have children?” My parents said the same thing. My mother was always saying: “We want you to get married and be happy.”
It took me a long time to get my nerve up to go see the school counselor. I was in the 10th grade when I walked into the counselor’s office. The counselor was sitting behind a big desk. He motioned to a chair across from him and I sat down. I could hardly speak I was so nervous. I just sat there.
Finally, he said, “What can I do for you?”
I gulped and said in a scared voice, “Do you think I could go to college?”
I hoped he would say, “Yes, there is no problem. You can surely go to college!”
Instead he said, “Oh no, Olga, you can’t go to college. Your family is too poor. You’ll never make it. This is what you should do—study shorthand and typing. That way you can work and then get married.”
I just sat there, staring at him. I couldn’t believe he had just told me I couldn’t go to college. Finally I got up and left. I thought, “Well, he said I can’t go to college. He should know. He’s the counselor.” Then I went to the bathroom and cried.
So I started to study typing and shorthand but I wasn’t interested in getting married. I didn’t want to be married; I wanted to have some time to myself. I wanted to figure out what I wanted in my life. In my senior year, my best friend got married. There was a joke in her family about me because when they took pictures of her throwing her bouquet, I calmly stood there with my hands behind my back as all of my other friends were reaching out for the bouquet. That’s how much I didn’t want to get married!
One morning in my junior year of high school, I woke up and thought about the advice the counselor had given me. I thought, “What kind of advice was that? Why can’t I go to college? I’m not dumb and I can work. How dare he say that to me? To hell with him—I’m going to college!”
I didn’t say anything to anyone but I began to study hard. Just before I graduated from high school, I found out I had received a small scholarship to go to the local community college. The day after I got my scholarship, I was walking down my high school hall feeling good. Then I saw my shorthand teacher. She had always been nice to me, and I was excited to tell her about my scholarship. I waved to her, and she came towards me. She was short and round with beady eyes. Before I could say anything to her, she walked right up to me and got so close that she spit in my face as she hissed, “What a waste. You shouldn’t have that scholarship—you’ll never even finish college!”
I felt like she had kicked me in the stomach. Anger washed over me. I felt my face getting redder and redder. I thought, “Don’t say anything. Olga. You are almost out of school. Don’t get into trouble now!” And I didn’t. I thought to myself though, “We’ll see.”
As it turned out, that school counselor actually did me a great favor. I would never have made it through college without . . . shorthand. I worked my way through school.
As for the teacher who treated me so disrespectfully, well, she did me a favor, too. Every time I felt like quitting I remembered her beady little eyes and how I thought, “I’ll show you.”
And I did! I got a scholarship; I graduated from college and became a teacher.