Tuesday, October 24, 2006

¿Que what?

A few months ago when I was at the Catalina Magazine party in L.A., I met a really cool woman who is a marketing guru and pug mommy. Whenever I talk to someone whose first language is Spanish, I know that sooner or later they're going to hate me. Or, pity me. Frankly, I don't know which one is worse.

No matter what we're talking about - cuisine, travel, books, people we work with - the conversation always boils down to The Question: "¿Hablas español?" I try to draw out the moment before I answer. There is a friendship at stake. But then I must answer no and the light in their eyes switches off and the conversation, no matter how engaging it had been, is over.

But this woman threw me for a loop. Her reply was, "Oh. So anyway, do you want to see a picture of my baby?"

I was fully prepared with my apology and explanation my mom had been advised to stop speaking Spanish to me by my first grade teacher, etc. But she didn't care, didn't judge. It was a momentous moment!

And still, I've thought about it on and off ever since until today when I started this entry. Spanish whispers to me from my subconscious because I can pick up the gist of a conversation or a song. But it is rooted in my soul. When I hear the guitarron or the chorus of Volver Volver, my soul stirs even though I had to read the English translation to fully understand the words.

But do you want to know the craziest thing? My Little Dude loves mariachi! I played Guadalajara for him and he went nuts, bouncing up and down while clapping his hands and screaming. (He can't quite pull off a grito, but give him time.)

If Mariachi can excite a fourteen month-old who - if you want to get technical about it - is half Mexican, a quarter Irish and an eighth German and an eighth Hungarian; then perhaps the spirit of Spanish is stronger than actual words. It is the umbilical cord that connects us to the revolutionaries, the conquistadors, the Aztecs and the Mayans; it is rooted in and thrives from the soul.

Am I a broken link in that history just because I rely on my trusty, Making Friends in Mexico to understand Spanish? Are my stories, my son a discontinuation of these people?

Nope. Nada de eso.

(Translation: Not at all.)


sdpenson said...


Not at all. I am a first generation American (parents from Russia). They spoke Russian and Yiddish (sounds like a bastardized German).
My siblings and I did not speak it. We could understand large pieces of it (parents spoke it when they were trying to keep things from us).

During those years it was NOT good to be from another country especially Russia. McCarthy era etc.

Those times whether you were from Russian peasant backround or Mexican or whatever your heritage..assimilation was the order of the times.

Today...we are much further along in our understanding of roots. We champion our differences and sameness.

In my heart and core I am very well aware that I am the daughter of those people in the movie Fiddler on the Roof.

You perhaps like "Tortilla Soup" and a heavy ingredient of "Like Water For Chocolate".

No apologies to anyone..none needed. You are the best.


Dona Sarkar-Mishra said...

Mary: I love this post and I totally relate to it. My parents are from India where the national language is Hindi. They know it, but don't speak it, so of course, I dont' either. Since our family is from the East, our regional language is something else (Bengali).

I can get by in Bengali okay thanks to speaking it with my parents my whole life...what pisses me off is when people see that I'm a brown person and start speaking in Hindi to me.

C'mon people, if something hasn't lived in a country their whole life, how will they know the language?

Wow, I sound crazy, don't I :)

Getting off my rant now...thanks for posting. Being a cat mommy myself, I loved your story about the pug mommy

Erica Orloff said...

Mary! What a great post!!!

My hubby has "rusty" Spanglish. same story as you--Mexicans were told to assimilate, assimilate back then and his parents seemed to cut themselves off from it. His father, for example . . . I asked him if he related to being Chicano, but he doesn't.

But my kids? The love, love, love being Mexican and shout it from the rooftops. I think they feel a profound connection to their roots. Same with my Russian roots.


Unknown said...

Sandy: You're so right that we forget history. WHen my grandma was born in California, the U.S. government was deporting anyone who looked Mexican back Mexico - even those who had been born here.

Dona: You're no crazier than the rest of us, dude.

Erica: I joke with my friends that in time, the world population will be part Mexican!

Dana Diamond said...

I've had people do the same to me.

I may not speak the same language of my grandparents, but the more research I do, the more I find I am just like them in many ways.

Probably because no matter what language I speak, the traditions, beliefs, attitudes, personalities (I could go on and on) were passed down in the grand tradition of mother-to-child.

When people turn off when I'm not what they want me to be, I think "How sad for you that you have such a small brain. Outta my way. I'm on to someone more interesting."

...which is probably what my grandmother would say if she were around today.

:) d