*Note: Some of my words in this article are written in Spanish, because I’m genuinely trying to learn. If you don’t like it, then oh well.*
Donald Trump’s election has brought out the worst kinds of blatant hate and racism that I’ve ever seen in my 35 years of existence. Over the past several weeks, I’ve seen one too many news reports that described people being assaulted or harassed because of the color of their skin.
Our deceased ancestors who worked hard to make this country better in our time than in theirs are surely rolling in their graves.
As someone who works her tail off to make my family tolerable people who the world would want to deal with, I decided that hash tagging and tongue flapping about the blatant racism expressed by some Americans was not enough for me. I had to do something very tough that challenged me to experience different cultures outside of my own as an African American woman.
So I tasked myself with becoming fluent in Spanish. Next to deciding that I was ready for a child when the doctor made the first incision for my c-section, and burying my father, this is probably the toughest thing that I’ve ever done.
Learning about my brown brothers and sisters across the border and beyond is personal to me. I grew up in a Borricua neighborhood, and we were all victims of the same crappy system together. Until they raised their voices against the xenophobia they’ve witnessed during this election cycle, I did not realize that my Latino and Hispanic friends, especially those of the African diaspora, were facing the exact same societal pressures as I was as a black woman.
I should have realized it sooner, but for some reason the reality hit me in the face this time. Hard. Duro.
Since November 9th, I’ve been working hard on my Spanish fluency, and I have to tell you that it hasn’t been easy. But it’s working. When I started, I knew more words in Spanish than what I thought. For a moment, it was actually fun to zip through the Memrise app, knowing that I knew basic words like te, pedir, and uno.
But as of a few days ago, I stepped it up a notch and started talking Spanish with experienced speakers, and Jesus it’s been crazy! But I’m having the time of my life learning Spanish and people from other countries.
Here is what I learned.
1. SOME SPANISH SPEAKERS WILL MAKE PHONE NUMBERS INTO A SERIES OF SUPER NUMBERS
I’m one of those Americans who repeats her phone number as individual numbers. So instead of saying 512-553-1234, I’ll say 5-1-2-5-5-3-1-2-3-4. But some Spanish speakers will lump the numbers together.
Quinientos doce, quinientos cincuenta y tres, doce, treinta y cuatro.
The first time I repeated a phone number to a Spanish speaker, I thought that I would get an approval of my individual numbers. Instead I got an elderly gentleman who lumped all of his numbers together, and he MADE me repeat it just the way he said it.
Me: cinco, uno, dos…
Him: Ay dios mio! Eso no es lo que yo dije! Escuchame! Quinientos doce, quinientos cincuenta y tres, doce, treinta y cuatro! Entiendo?!
That man scarred me for life, but I learned.
2. SOME PEOPLE DON’T HAVE TIME TO LISTEN TO YOU PRACTICE, TAKE IT IN STRIDE
I’ve run into a lot of people who’ve heard me practice my mediocre Spanish, and they don’t have time to listen. They don’t care, and that’s fine with me. We all have days where we don’t have time to listen to other people.
They don’t matter anyway. The people who matters are the people who are interested in listening to you, and those people come in abundance. So if you find yourself practicing Spanish, and someone tells you to stop talking, don’t take it personal. Americans do the same thing sometimes, but with English.
3. BLACK IS BEAUTIFUL ALL OVER THE WORLD
Looking at photos and videos of all of the beautiful black people celebrating Carnival has made my week. It’s been so touching to me, that I’ve found it gratifying explaining to my child how they are our “skinfolks” too. When my son asked me why I was learning Spanish, I explained to him that the difference between African Americans and Afro-Latinos was a boat ride. It was touching for us to realize together that our blood runs deep, and that our Afro-Latino counterparts are just like us in many ways.
To see photos and videos of Afro-Latinos celebrating their culture only fueled my desire to learn Spanish. It is now my dream that one day we can interact with each other fluently, and there’s beauty in that for me.
4. TELENOVELAS ARE ADDICTIVE
One of the first things my friend Concepcion told me to do if I wanted to lean Spanish was to watch telenovelas. But she failed to tell me that I should seek help if I became addicted to them.
Right now, I’m watching the Cuban telenovela “Celia” on Netflix, and Jesus de Cristo is it good! Now my Netflix queue is filled with telenovelas. I’m finishing “El Tiempo Entre Costuras” (it got kind of stale, but it’s still good), “Narcos,” “La Promesa,” “La Hipocondriaca” and “La Aparacio.”
Yeah, I’m addicted. But the benefit is that I’m slowly losing the subtitles.
5. LATINOS AND HISPANICS ARE NOT A MONOLITH
Since learning Spanish, I’ve learned that the quickest way to offend a Latino or Hispanic person is to think of them as if they all came to this country to escape poverty. I’ve always known it was offensive, but even I had to check myself when I asked a friend Manuela why Mexicans lump their numbers together, as I gave in the example above. She almost took my head off.
She was right to feel that way. But thankfully my friend sat me down and explained to me that just like Americans have valley girls, rednecks, and hipsters, Latinos and Hispanics around the world have the same kinds of people too. I felt so small when I realized what I said, because I thought it was an innocent question. After a long talk over dinner and work with my friend, I realized that I was actually being prejudiced, and that hurt me.
Needless to say, I’m way more careful about my words and how I perceive my brown brothers and sisters. Just like I don’t want people to think that I’m a neck rolling, trash talking ghetto girl upon first meeting me, I’m checking myself to make sure that I’m not doing the same to other people.
6. LA MADRE DONES’T FUCK AROUND WHEN IT COMES TO HOLIDAY DINNERS
My friend Concepcion has already started prepping the tamales, and Thanksgiving is still a few days away! When she told me about the feast she was preparing, I quickly realized that of the 35-years that I’ve been alive, I’ve been eating dinner in the wrong damn households. I could have been learning Spanish and eating all of the pasteles and tamales I could handle.
7. YOU’D BE SURPRISED AT HOW MANY SPANISH SPEAKERS ARE TERRIBLE AT SPEAKING SPANISH
In high school, I once heard a joke that Puerto Ricans like to make up words in Spanish. For instance, factory to a Puerto Rican may be “factoria,” but to everyone else it’s “fabrica.”
Turns out, a lot of Spanish speakers make up words. Since I’ve started talking Spanish, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard a mother tell her grown child, or wife tell her husband, “No es una palabra.” They get what they’re saying, but depending on the country of their origin, they may say something that doesn’t make sense.
For instance, words like “fleek” and “lit” are all across social media. Well turns out, Latinos and Hispanics have the same problem with some words. So far, I’ve added beans and hater to the list of words that does not fully translate among Spanish speakers.
8. MOTHERHOOD IS WAY MORE FUN EN ESPANOL
My son is not that interested in learning Spanish, but I still speak it to him. Especially when I’m angry. Since the election, I’ve done a few surprise visits at my son’s school to make sure that he’s behaving himself.
One day, I caught him while he was acting a monkey, and I started speaking Spanish to him. In front of his second grade class, I asked him, “Cual es tu problema?!” He looked afraid for his life.
Since then, his teachers and teachers aides have been teaching me how to nag my child in Spanish, and no other woman in the world could ever say, “actuar como si tienen algún sentido o te matare,” like a Latino or Hispanic madre.
Oh the joy’s of motherhood!
Have you picked up a foreign language? What have you learned about other cultures since practicing a different language.