One of my Asian students today reminded me of how the struggle with adjusting to a new culture, a new region, a new language is, for some, quite challenging and for others a true battle. I learned from my Vietnamese students that there is a level of snobbery from the young who speak perfect Vietnamese as opposed to those who have nearly assimilated. I remember reading Maxine Hong Kingston's story and others'. In my house we speak both English and Spanish and sometimes we get things crossed up but always seem to know what the other means. I have had to push my way to the fronts of re-learning and learning Spanish. When I am in a setting with Gera's family, I have to either dive in or sit like un mudo. Gera has had to learn the southern--rather heavy--dialect (in between the myriad 'cuss' words) that my Auntie sounds out. It's a challenge but we're not afraid. Nope. We do it and when we make mistakes: he sounds out the 'w' in 'answer' and I call my sister 'my sister in half' instead of 'my half sister'--we laugh at each other, remember, and move on. Sometimes our mistakes are hilarious, but we are too consumed to laugh and just want desperately to get it right. I still can't remember how to say "water hose" and he has told me the Spanish word more than enough times. I failed to put it on the dry erase which is like a security blanket for both of us. He continues to forget words like 'teenagers' or doesn't know when a person is saying fifteen v. fifty (which I understand how the latter can be a problem, just say the two; they almost sound identical). When I go into the panaderia (bakery) for teleras or bolios (bread), I get antsy because I need to know how much to pay. They tell me in Spanish. When Gera drives up to the Sonic Burger (50s style, you order outside and they bring the food to you--outside), he says, "give me two burrrgrs" and looks at me hoping they don't say "can you repeat that". Ahh, but the beauty in the struggle to learn, speak, read and write another language not your own is an amazing ride.
"Bilingual/Bilingüe" by Rhina Espaillat
My father liked them separate, one there one here (allá y aquí), as if aware
that words might cut in two his daughter's heart (el corazón) and lock the alien part
to what he was--his memory, his name (su nombre)--with a key he could not claim.
"English outside this door, Spanish inside," he said, "y basta." But who can divide
the world, the word (mundo y palabra) from any child? I knew how to be dumb
and stubborn (testaruda); late, in bed, I hoarded secret syllables I read
until my tongue (mi lengua) learned to run where his stumbled. And still the heart was one.
I like to think he knew that, even when, proud (orgulloso) of his daugher's pen,
he stood outside mis versos, half in fear of words he loved but wanted not to hear.
It's May 2012 and nothing has changed since November.11. I am all smiles at my relationship and myself. My honey and I continue to amaze each other on a daily basis. We're still ever so 'in' with each other. I completed my MA in literature last May and I'm teaching four college English courses to really smart students. I am hopeful to enter a doctorate program soon. This way, I can run out.All is scary good.
upon hearing your voice life again expands like moon crest like pomegranates swell to the sun and you are patient because god calls
when he came for you this morning you were bent into the flower bed singing black hymns so he left you alone until this third afternoon but even then he found you elbow deep in jewel weed with a mouthful of figs from a nearby tree again he waited because each time seemed to him an inconvenience and a wrong moment
and it was your persistent humming that drove him up and back until he could get his timing perfect he waited another day or so until
your gardening tools rest into porch corners your paring knife shines deeply into a drawer your hair comb lies slanted in a shoebox your wedding band hides in the mattress your fishing rod stays stolen
the sound of your voice desires to sing or hum but this time is perfect he has covered you like lavender-colored silence but he has also added streaks of olive green and pink because this is what the other soul-folk has told him to do and he has become tired in the process and therefore begins to rush sonances of your body he finds you the least complex when you are not outdoors digging in that garden, humming hymns and thriving and for a moment he questions his own timing its perfection and everything goes accordingly until he finds you have buried fruit peels and wandering jew petals underneath your back this does not anger him but it tilts his agility to deliver you and in his own questioning and presence of smells that he cannot privilege all this over powers his choice all this reels his otherwise perfection into letting you go
when i see you sitting in the plush squares of limitless St. Augustine your eyes are lit like crystal warmed soil releases from each of your hands
how did i get to this point this point of knowing you for you are nearly a century old