Often, young Latino children, who are just learning to conjugate verbs, entertain us with their word games. They invert syllables, invent words, and make all the effort in the world to appropriate the world through language.
But what once seemed cute to us is now another pejorative and disrespectful way of judging children for their difficulties in speaking their parents’ language correctly.
We are talking about the nickname “Yo No Sabo” for children who, having grown up in the United States and with English as their first language, are not as fluent in Spanish.
According to Urban Dictionary, “‘no sabo’ is a term used for people of Hispanic/Latino descent that don’t know or barely speak Spanish. Used by Hispanics/Latinos for Hispanics/Latinos that just doesn’t know Spanish.”
Yes, saying “no sabo” in Spanish is common in Spanish-speaking homes, especially when children are learning to conjugate the verb “saber.” But now, that phrase so frequent at home is another way to stigmatize one another, within the same community, for our identity construction.
Growing up, my siblings and I were fortunately taught Spanish in our household, but once we started school, many “correct” terms got Americanized by learning English early in our childhood. Spanglish happened. We started to adopt both of the beautiful culture’s slang, mix the two languages, and use incorrect terms, such as “marketa” instead of mercado. It could be challenging speaking both languages correctly as the brain shifts to code-switch based on my audience – and to this day, I still get made fun of in Mexico for talking all gabacho. It doesn’t mean I don’t know how to read or write Spanish fluently. It simply means that my two languages get mixed up at times – and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Referring to someone as a “Yo No Sabo” kid doesn’t make you better. It’s their choice if they want to learn their language or not. Imagine growing up with busy parents who don’t necessarily have the time to correct your Spanish – it happens!
However, I have to say that being someone who knows both languages provides endless benefits as an adult, especially in the working field. It allows me to be a translator, to help my community, and in the future, will be a generational gift passed down to my children as accurately as I know it.