Roberto

It never felt like it belonged to me. The way the Rs rolled, the way the words flowed.

But I felt it, growing inside me and becoming mine.

Roberto.

I was afraid to say his name. I was afraid my rigid tongue would strip it of its beauty, of its culture, of its history.

I was afraid they would all laugh at me. I was afraid they would be insulted by the way it stuck in my mouth like putty, like glue, like… English.

And I decided, for a time, to leave it to those who it belonged to.

But even greater was the fear that my son would come to know himself as Row- bear-toe.

Growing up to wear just a shell of his crown.

My prince.

My Principe.

The owner of all of the time and space that preceded him, the sculptor of all that lay before him.

I felt him growing inside me, becoming strong.

Strong like his Papa said his name, “Roberto Antonio Caballero!”

Strong, like his father, whose name is the same.

Beto, my boy.

Strong like his abuelito who was born in Mexico, learned the land by the stars, created a life in America and trusted me to carry his story. Strong like the river he crossed.

And this history, that wasn’t mine, and this language that sounded like wind through the trees and held love and pain and war and joy in its vowels and rolled like water over stones through its consonants was growing inside me. This language that belonged to my boy felt like rocks tumbling from my throat and staining my cheeks like sun to my fair skin.

I come from generations of strong women and men whose history is lost but not stolen. What a blessing, I thought, to have ancestors on your tongue.

So, when I met him, I whispered, “Roberto Antonio Caballero. That’s you!”

And I promised that my confidence would grow as he grew. And I’m learning and I’m teaching my daughter too.

This Spanish is more than a language my ninos. It’s you. And in the marks upon my belly and the milk that fills my breasts for you, it’s mine too.

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