Cassie McClure

My favorite picture of my grandparents hangs in my hallway. They are in the middle of what seems like a joke, both smiling with their eyes closed and leaning into each other. It was taken by a cousin once removed who was able to be at their wedding anniversary celebration.

Due to time and distance, I could not. I was both pleased and sad to receive that picture. It wasn’t just the distance that separated my grandparents from their only grandchild; it was a deviation of my journey in language and then, slowly, in culture.

Some of that started when I was 12, when my mom thought it would be swell if I learned Spanish and suggested that I take it as my foreign language component. I asked to take more German classes, to get a better grasp on writing the language that I spoke, but that was waved off with the idea that the writing would come to me later.

Cut to 15 years later. When I met the man who became my husband, he almost physically recoiled from my attempts at Spanish.

“Why,” he asked slowly, “do you speak like a Texan who learned Spanish in Spain?”

Excellent question.

Turns out the most indelible Spanish teachings came from a young woman who came from Dallas but was working at a U.S. air base in Germany. She mostly wanted to teach cooking but seemed to have also been roped into teaching Spanish. Her “Advanced Spanish” classes were small, about six kids, so we combined our broken Spanish with baking cookies in the Home Economics room.

When I spoke my already poor Spanish in a Spain dialect to a northern Mexican, it just didn’t translate meaningfully. I had to grow to learn the intricacies of his Spanish, his language tinged with Mexican culture that is embedded in my local area but that I never learned in school.

There’s a similar division of language and culture happening throughout the country, where our verbal and nonverbal language — like the flags stuck in our yards — puts us in different camps and walks us into different manifestations of what American culture looks like, and perhaps even should look like, for everyone.

Make no mistake: There are various cultural incarnations of what it means to be an American, and, likely terrifying for both sides, they are all valid.

However, most American cultures are attached to a gross stereotype that we can call up readily and with derision. It’s an uneducated, NASCAR-watching, sleeveless, sunburned white male. It’s the pink-haired Hispanic woman with a nose ring haughtily asking for avocado toast.

Unfortunately, stereotypes are too easy when it comes to knowing their truths, but they might relate to each other more than you think. The Hispanic woman may also think fondly of NASCAR, remembering when she listened to her papá and tíos yell at the cars on TV when she was little. The white man might have recently turned into a staunch avocado advocate, as it helped him add good fats to his diet per his doctor’s advice.

It’s easy to follow those obvious outside markers and make assumptions. But his or her fears, dreams and truths may line up more than we can know in passing.

I don’t think I’m alone in being a little sad to feel so far away from people I believe I share country with. We may just need to learn more dialects in our national conversation.

Cassie McClure is a writer, wife/mama/daughter, fan of the Oxford comma, and drinker of tequila. Some of those things relate. She can be contacted at, or follow her on Twitter: @TheCMcClure. Click here to read previous columns. The opinions expressed are her own.