For most highschoolers, speaking Spanish does not come easy. However, freshman Juli Santander has been speaking the language since birth. With a mom from Chile and a dad from Ecuador, Santander has been immersed in both American and Latin American cultures her entire life.
“The only language I spoke was Spanish until I went to Kindergarten,” said Santander. “Once I started school, I had to learn English...”
As the first born, Santander explains that she learned Spanish as her first language. However, her two younger brothers not only learned Spanish, but also they learned English at a younger age than she did.
Santander’s Latin American heritage impacts her life in so many ways, from attending a Spanish speaking church to helping out friends in Spanish class. Santander can fluently speak both Spanish and English, which helps her to connect and understand both cultures in a way most Americans cannot.
One noticeable difference Santander sees between the two cultures is how they greet each other. While Americans only hug familiar people, Hispanics greet even new acquaintances affectionately.
“The thing I love the most about Latin American culture is the fact that people are so loving and incredibly nice. Even if you don’t know them, they still make you feel so welcome and comfortable,” said Santander. “We hug and kiss on the cheek. It is a super loveable culture overall.”
Being fluent in two languages, Santander has many opportunities to meet and communicate with new people, like talking to her cousin in Argentina who only speaks Spanish.
“With knowing both cultures, you can really understand how to react to a person, and it just opens up a door to a lot of relationships with people,” said Santander.
Santander’s unique upbringing presents her with opportunities to serve as a translator in many different settings, such as working with her uncle at Good Samaritan, a non-profit, Christian organization that gives food, supplies and healthcare to the unemployed. Around 70 percent of people who use Good Samaritan are Hispanic and only speak Spanish.
As a bilinguist, Santander volunteers at Good Samaritan speaking and translating Spanish.
“I would listen, I would answer in Spanish and then I would translate. It was really one of those moments where I was like, ‘Wow! Spanish is really important to me’,” said Santander.
Being immersed in both cultures has personally affected Santander. These cultures and languages each have a special part in her life and give her another perspective in this world.
“My parents have really taught me respect for everyone through this area of my life,” Santander said. “I want to pass down my Latin American heritage to my kids because I love it, and it is a big part of who I am.”