When I was in elementary school, my sister had a friend who would often come over to our house and play. Sometimes we would teach each other words from our respective home languages: our family was from El Salvador and hers was from the Philippines. One day, we became fascinated by the discovery that there were certain words in Tagalog and Spanish that sounded so similar to each other. I don’t know why but that mysterious excitement and confusion always stuck with me. Like most inquisitive children, I always wanted to know the “why” for everything.

Fast forward to when I was in college learning about how the Spaniards colonized both the Philippines and Latin America. Right away, that childhood memory flashed back in my mind and it all made sense. The mystery had been solved: the reason why Tagalog and Spanish sounded so similar is because both countries had been colonized by Spain, influencing the evolution of the Philippine and Latin American native languages to include Spanish-like words.

Many people do not realize that Spanish is not the native language of any Latin American country. It blew my mind to learn that there was a whole other language that was spoken before the Spaniards colonized the area. It was also a painful lesson to realize how greed and cultural misunderstanding could lead to such conflict and war that would eventually cause an entire culture to reach the brink of extinction!

The silver lining? Despite the environmental and cultural oppression many countries around the world had to endure for many centuries, many Indigenous languages and cultural traditions persevere and evolve. Some people may want to hide tragic historical facts, but it is important to be aware of our past, so that it may provide us lessons for our present and enable us to build a sustainable and respectful global culture for our future generations.

Kaira Portillo

Kaira Portillo

Kaira Portillo-Espinoza was born and raised in San Francisco, CA. She is grateful for having grown up around such a wide spectrum of diversity, which makes the Bay Area the unique place it is. Her first published book, Poems About This Roller-Coaster Ride Called Life, is a collection of poems she wrote throughout high school and college and explores issues of injustice, resistance, sexuality, and empowerment. See more articles by this author >