Once upon a time, there was a white girl (straight off the charts hot), named Lauren. Not “cool white”, but Midwestern, ketchup-is-spicy, peanut butter on OREOs white. This unassuming girl fell in love with a very Mexican man. This was an ofrenda loving, tamarindo eating, slicked back hair, tacos al pastor eating Mexican man. What would you do if I told you this girl was me and the man was my husband? I know. I KNOW. I seem so very foreign and savvy. How was I such a corn on the cob, peanut butter and jelly loving girl once? Well, I still am, but now I like my corn in a cup. Please excuse all the food references, this lady is one hungry mother and I’m writing this as my son sleeps on my arm.
It started very early in our relationship. My husband (then boyfriend) took me to a wedding in his hometown. While there, he dropped on me that we were going to stop at his mother’s home. I was dressed in a Sublime shirt, covered in holes, and may or may not already had something to drink. “Great,” I thought.
Of course, I had over reacted. As soon as we walked in the front door, “Tita”, my husband’s grandmother, greeted me with a “Hello,” in perfect English she continued, “I don’t speak English.” She finished with a chuckle and we laughed and laughed and laughed. This sweet little lady was sarcastic and was poking fun of the quintessential stereotype that would assume she would only be able to speak Spanish. I was digging it.
Until I later saw her sitting on the couch alone watching a telenovela. Of course I wanted to speak to this little firecracker some more, so I popped over to see her. As I sat down, I asked “So, what are you watching?” Tita in all her glory and grace, looked me dead in the eyes and said “Si”. For all my non-spanish speaking brothers and sisters out there, that translates to “Yes” (technically ‘IF’ but I intend it to be yes – so go with it).
The future I had created with her in my head tumbled down, while the realization that she really did not speak English hit me. For whatever reason, I had really wanted to her to speak English, but it (shamefully) took me a beat to realize I could learn Spanish to speak to her.
Fortunately for me, I had three years of formal education in Spanish classes, a live in tutor, and my son’s baby’s books to help me out since that first meeting with Tita. Slowly, I’ve gathered words and weird phases. The app, DuoLingo, has helped immensely and is strongly recommended. If you guys have any actual questions on how I’ve learned, feel free to reach out to me, I’d love to share more in depth.
As I write this, I realize my goal is less learning Spanish and more pressing upon you what I have learned in the process. To me, language is the largest hurdle and best bridge between cultures. By examining language, one could have a better understanding of a cultures sternness, severity, humor, there is no better way to have a connection with any other person. Telling stores (written or spoken) and laughter can transcend years and distances.
Of course, I can only share my experience with the Mexican culture, but what I can say is the stereotypes imposed on all cultures are mostly ridiculous and can essentially be applied to any culture. At the end of the day, we all love, mourn, laugh, cry, get scared of our mother’s chanclas the same. At the end of the day, we are all looking for a deep and meaningful connection (taco). And (at the risk of sounding trite), the color of your skin, the God you pray to, the political party you identify with, the gender you love, the food you eat does not matter. I repeat, none of that matters.
What does matter is that you learn to love, read, explore, think independently, act audaciously, and say ‘fuck it’ when you need to. Connect with people, learn about people, get out of your bubble and forge relationships. Also, deciding when something doesn’t work for you and letting it go. Some people are lactose sensitive.
Learning another language could only be the beginning. Find people who are different than you. I never would have realized the beauty of street mango, the sweet, sweet gooey goodness of cajeta, or experience the jack pot winnings of Loteria if I wouldn’t have let this family into my heart and life. No good story started with surrounding yourself with the same people as you. So, I urge you, get out there, talk, get off my blog (but come back) and order some conchas and a cafe de olla, sit down with a stranger and talk.
***Please still recognize stranger danger and STDs are a real thing.