Every month Black Girl, Latin World brings you an inspiring person, project or piece of art that champions Afrolatinidad and the diaspora. This month’s Spotlight is an awesome Spanish-speaker by the name of Vernon Lewis. Check out his journey on learning Spanish, why it has opened doors for him and his advice for those who want to learn.
I remember meeting Vernon during our time working at a political fellowship together. Our supervisor paired us together to work on the Spanish-language calls. Upon meeting him, I did not know how he identified, but I was super stoked to meet another person of visible African-descent who spoke Spanish.
Vernon learned Spanish and English in home with his mother, who is from Guatemala. Many of our coworkers were impressed with his bilingual ability. He states that his identity has defidently played a part in his journey. “I truly believe that my racial identity played a huge part in my ability to learn Spanish. Each time that I was confronted by an individual, most believe that I was mixed, that I was not “entirely” black….whatever that means. I am what I believe “best of two worlds.” Being part of two ethnic groups and learning different languages is a trade off,” says Vernon.
A trade-off that makes Vernon, in his words, more “marketable”. Having this skill set and working in customer service is according to this individual, ‘a plus’. He does, however, realize that many people in Texas speak the language. “Having the ability to speak Spanish, in Texas is not a perk,” acknowledges Vernon. “Many “mixed-families” and Hispancs grow up speaking two languages.” Considering the fact the Texas is home to a high percentage of Spanish-language speakers, knowing some of the language is the norm.
What makes a person “fluent” in a language is debatable. Some say that one can never be truly fluent because you don’t know every word in the language. Others say that you are fluent when you can talk about anything. Vernon questions when people count him as “fluent”. “In my perspective, no one is fluent in any language, your only are proficient,” he states.
Vernon admits that learning Spanish has had its challenges. “One in particular is understanding the tenses of the words and sentence structure,” he says. Those verb tenses can trip up even native speakers. But that doesn’t stop him from listening to his favorite Latin artists like J.Balvin, who according to Vernon, has a rap style similar to Drake. Music can be a great way to get immersed in a language. However, if you really want to learn Vernon has some great advice for you. “Practice speaking Spanish with a native. It will help a lot!”
Thank you Vernon for taking the time to speak to the Black Girl, Latin World about your experiences. We wish you the best in all your pursuits.