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Friday, October 3, 2008

O! The Joys of Embracing Another Language

My first blog (applause, applause) and I am incredibly proud of myself. Finally I have made good of my intention to woman a blog. Last night was the Big Night, but after the deed was done, a sistah was too tired to even write the lovely thing! So I took my happy self to bed, decidedly elated!
O the joy of embracing another language!
Just as I am typing these words, the thought fills my head to be adventurous and begin a blog in Spanish. Talk about practicing what one loves. That would be a true challenge, not to mention reading a novel in Spanish. That's what I'll do to exercise my mental muscles next!
Ever since I was a girl in Waterbury, Connecticut, which is presently a ghost town of what it once was, I loved learning and embracing the Spanish culture that I encountered in the beloved company of my mostly Puerto Rican girlfriends, although I did think Otto Arroyo, whom I was told has since made his transition, was adorable, my Puerto Rican girls took my breath away. Ada Duvallon, "Edita," to her Cuban family, who moved to Waterbury when I was attending Kennedy High School, was my only Cuban friend. I'm sure falling in love with them helped my tongue pronounce and cuddle and cradle the different music that Spanish is in my mouth.
Talking about Spanish in my mouth makes me think of what an American Spanish teacher once shared with me. She said, "Spanish is spoken at the front of the mouth, thus one hears the beauty of the rapid, machine-gun sounds; English is spoken from within the mouth." An apt description indeed! I pictured English sounds coming out fleshed and full and rolling like white-capped waves moving leisurely towards an expectant shore, as opposed to Spanish waves hitting the beach in rippling, impulsive, pounding and lapping musical crescendos!
My love affair with Spanish began early. When I spoke it with my middle-school girlfriends, perplexed expressions would pucker my teachers' faces, and inevitably, at the beginning of the school year, several would ask, "What are you---a Black Puerto Rican?" They were amazed at how easily I communicated with my Spanish peers. It seemed I never had to wrestle my tongue in all-night marathons to master the double r's or l's (as in "perro" or dog and "llevar" or to carry). The feat came naturally. And as passionately as Selena belting out the love ballad "No Me Queda Mas."
In high school, the love affair continued. Only the stakes were heightened. For not only did I learn to sit perfectly still and listen to and appreciate the melodious chatter of my girlfriends, Norma Gonzalez, Margarita, Edith, and of course mi amada amiga Ada, the ones who glide easily to the forefront of my memory, but also I met true femininity up close and personal gazing at Margarita, who, had she been a drink, I'd yet be intoxicated! She was the manifestation of all things female. When she moved, to execute the smallest of chores, the lifting of a pencil, the smoothing of her skirt, she charmed me, left me wholly enamored. Those petal pink fingernails on the tips of long, delicate fingers stilled my speech. It's a wonder and a blessing I passed the tenth grade, enraptured as I was in the mesmerizing way she ran those fingers through that long black Latina hair. Watching it ripple down her back was a hormone-raging turn-on. And when those lips got ready to pout and utter ANYTHING, the world ceased rotating, same as my blood suspended circulating...oh but to hear a waterfall of Spanish tumble from those lips again.
Mi Dios, mi Dios!
My middle and high school days, as fascinating and filled with the joy of all things Spanish---standing in Norma's kitchen watching her papi play with his "nietos" until his grown children came to get them and eating in Ada's kitchen, listening to her mami, with the smell of frijoles and carnes and smells I didn't know to recognize and sitting on Margarita's stoop admiring her big strappling dark-haired primo newly arrived from las montanas of Puerto Rico and whispering in Spanish to Norma about who Otto was taking to the school dance and looking into Edith's butch eyes while she inhaled me as if I were aromatic coffee plumes---when these delights went the way of all good things, straight into yesterday, I eventually left Waterbury. Never to see mis amigas again. I returned 25 years later, for the funeral of my beloved Uncle or "Unca" Junior, the first of my father's siblings to fall like a magnificent oak in the night.
The nose of my familia's monstrous yellow U-haul and caravan of cars was headed to Tuskegee, Alabama, my parents' homeland. Once there, I attended the historic Tuskegee Institute University, carrying on my love affair with Spanish by minoring in the language. Again, I plunged into the music of the cherished sounds. I practised daily. I wrote, breathed, ate, moaned, cried, sighed and cheered in Spanish. No, it didn't matter that I had no one outside of a few of my enthusiastic classmates with whom to practice. At first. So, I surfed through the years and garnered "Most Fluent" and other honors during Awards Night programs. Maravillosa! But I was always missing someone with whom to practice.
When college years became a sweet memory, I felt the horror of my Lady Love slipping away from me. Somehow I'd convinced myself my Spanish love affair had slid all the way down the Hill of Passion. And it had, until one day, when I was orchestrating College Board workshops in the Southern Region, I came across a Latina, who was working in the hotel in which I was staying. She served me water and bread. I served her a smile and second helpings of conversation, in Spanish. She corrected my Spanish; I proofread her English. We were thrilled with one another.
"You want to learn Spanish?" Her button brown eyes twinkled. "You get you a Spanish boyfriend."
Never had the notion crossed my mind. And I couldn't help but translate for myself.
"Hmmm. Get a Spanish girlfriend and get it done."
But I had not climbed down from the slowly crumbling stage on which I was standing. Mi ex-esposo had not run away. I hadn't yet accepted the truth I could make it without him, that he wasn't Jesus. That my world wouldn't implode if I stepped off the buckling front steps for the last time.
Gradually, everything changed.
After I packed my bags and drove across Panola Road to set up house in a new luxury apartment, I flapped and opened my wings. And found my wingspan was incredible. Strengthened by the love and support of my family, and my faith in self, I flew off into the rest of mi vida.
On the plateau of my today, I embrace the joy of speaking another language with whomever comes within inches of my face. And that means everyone. The Blockbuster cutie who asked if my son and I were Dominican. He'd not known the common everyday garden variety Black people, like himself, to speak Spanish. I only smiled, said I loved the taste of Spanish on my tongue and led him in a quick lesson, remembering to praise him for trying.
Now, since I gave myself permission to make everyone my special someone with whom to share my love of the language, I have become more fluent, more confident. Native Spanish speakers compliment me. Strangers engage me by calling on their long-gone days of sleeping in high-school Spanish classes. But there are those who make their positions known in different ways. My precious sister/friend of 30-plus years, my longest-standing friend girl, Anita Lynn, who bears a Spanish surname, is quick to check me. "I AM TOO TIRED TO TRANSLATE. My brain is fried! I don't want to hear it!" At those times, I chuckle and revert quickly into English. Then there's my beloved Gina, who chides me about speaking Spanish to her as if she understands. "I don't understand that stuff!" Yet, she is a darling, forever presenting me with the opportunity to practice with Spanish speakers, even down to promising she will travel to Spain or Costa Rica with me so that I can dance my tongue around the language all day long!
The Universe opens---for whatever we want.
Before I could complete the thought of immersing myself in Spanish, the answer was already there. I began to see opportunity everywhere. Instead of scrolling through the site admiring the enchanting ladies that I hoped were tucked away behind the beautiful pictures there, I sent out an SOS to my Latina sisters for someone with whom to converse, and my clarion call delivered the gorgeous Angelita Regia in Monterrey, Mexico, and the stunning Azucena in Sarasota, Florida. Between them, a sistah chats to her corazon's content! "Estoy muy contenta!"
And my testimony continues...
When I fire up my IM now, my new attractive, bubbly, blonde, Melaleuca business partner, Mary Ann, is desirous of speaking Spanish with me, answering my "Como estas?" quickly, willingly. She's hilarious, recapping stories about not paying attention in Spanish class years ago. Now she's planning a vacation back to Honduras and wants to be verbally vacation competent before next summer. Charming Colette, says she dreamed a nasty little dream that EVERYONE had to know Spanish to keep their jobs. Yikes! Rika, an adorable baby butch I recently met, has invited me to call, phone, IM or tex her in Spanish. Fabulous Angelique, or "Big Red," called one day last week to tell me that she dreamed she was speaking Spanish with me, and although she does understand a great deal beyond a general salutation, said, in the dream, she was as fluent as I was.
My darling college sister friend Mrs. Major and I often speak of the love her Latino students have for her because she, like me when I was in the classroom, embraced their culture, the language, their food, and the holiday Cinco de Mayo. Likewise, like me, Mrs. Major is a drum major for diversity and tolerance.
Cynt, my new friend of the magnificent guns every time she flexes, has asked that I teach her Spanish. So, I speak to her in Spanish, and she answers in English. I love our exchange! It reminds me of my dialogue with my son, who prefers it the same way.
And just today, to land this jumbo jet of a post, when I ventured into Miss Julie's award-winning Jamaican restaurant for lunch, Miss Julie's hubby asked me to come again and teach him Spanish, because today, Friday, was not a Spanish-speaking day in their place. I fell out laughing. "Only English today, my friend," he teased me. Miss Julie, the beautiful wife, watched me, a huge smile plastered on her sun-brown features. "You are a fire cracker!" she praised, passing us, me and my son and my new daughter, Styrofoams of curry goat and cabbage and plantains and jerk chicken and beans and rice and beef patties and banana pudding and bread pudding. "Caramba! Una mujer estuvo muy lleno y fui muy contenta. Si, era un delicioso dia de veras!" And what did I do? "Te prometo!" I promised, taking note of the restaurant's location. The promise shouldn't be very difficult to keep. I'll simply bring my next date or my sister or my twin brother.
In closing, I advise everyone to stretch, to venture into building bridges across the divide of neighborhoods and cultures and tradition, and to broaden their horizons.
Don't add to the negative like the students on CNN last month. A group of students, it seemed, wanted the school system to make it a cardinal sin for Hispanic students to speak Spanish in school. If they are minding their own business, I say, they can speak whatever they like, just like the students calling for their heads. And if they are mastering their lessons, in whatever classes, then they can speak whatever brings them joy. The same students calling for the termination of Latino rights to communicate in their first language, talking about these students could be ridiculing them in Spanish, should check themselves. They might find they ought to have studied enough Spanish already to embrace friendship instead of war. Too many of our young people, and older folks, would rather separate themselves and ferret a reason to construct walls than master, "Hola! Como esta?"
Bienvenidos todo el mundo!

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