Latina woman opens up about 1st-generation Latinos reclaiming the term ‘no sabo’

Latinx and Hispanic people on TikTok are reclaiming the expression “no sabo,” which has often been used to jokingly chastise them about their lack of language skills.

A so-called “no sabo” kid is a child who comes from a Latin or Hispanic family and speaks little to no Spanish. Because of this, they can sometimes be treated as an outsider to the culture — despite having all the other stereotypical characteristics of a Hispanic or Latinx person.

“Normally in Spanish, you would say ‘No sabo’ to say that ‘I don’t know,’ but it’s an irregular verb, so you say ‘No sé,’” said Jordan Darko, founder of language company Yo!Spanish (@yospanishofficial). “Hence the ‘No sabo’ is kind of like making fun of somebody.”

Oftentimes, these children are born in the United States and assimilate into American culture — which happens more frequently as generations of immigrant households acclimate to the United States.

According to Pew Research Center data, second-generation Latinx parents speak Spanish 14% less than their parents did — adding to the language barrier.

However, as these children continue to be called out for being an alleged “no sabo” kid, some are taking back the power of the word.

“It’s actually so refreshing to see more first-generation Latino kids be a bit more receptive and trying to reclaim being a ‘no sabo’ kid,” Marlene Ramir (@marlene.ramir), a first-generation Mexican American, said. “It’s so frustrating to be met with these accusations of not being too Latino enough because you don’t speak perfect Spanish. …We’re ‘no sabo.’ And?”

Many commenters felt similarly to Ramir and her reasoning behind why it’s OK to not be fully fluent in Spanish.

“It’s also a survival mechanism to have to assimilate to the culture dictated by your environment,” replied @elgatogus.

In an article for Refinery29, Mexican American writer Jacqueline Delgadillo argued why reclaiming the term is an important thing to do.

“Language proficiency is another form of gatekeeping Latinidad,” she wrote. “As it’s been said time and time again, Latinxs are not a monolith — so why do we continue to uphold strict criteria of what it means to be Latinx?”

Figuring out how to navigate language in a Hispanic or Latinx family can be difficult for some if they don’t speak perfect Spanish, but some TikTokers have come up with ways to protect themselves in uncomfortable situations.

Mexican American TikToker Ana Saia (@saianana) created a post explaining how to survive a family reunion as a “no sabo” kid. In her post, she advises people to use simple Spanish phrases that can keep the conversation moving and pretend to answer a call from their mother if they run out of things to say.

“I needed this growing up,” replied @cloi_art.

As “no sabo” kids grow up and examine their relationship to their heritage, many are becoming more comfortable with freeing themselves from unwanted blame.

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