Friday, August 10, 2007

Spanish non-Speaker

The other day at work, I was standing near the manager's office. She was on the phone, but turned to me, "Regina, do you speak Spanish?" As I always do at that question, I felt fearful, hesitated and tried to think of how to get out of another opportunity to show what a failure I am to not speak Spanish fluently.

"Uh," I responded. "Kind of."

So instead of handing me the phone, she said, "Well, what does 'mejor' mean?"

"'Better.'"

"OH!" and she eagerly turned back to the conversation, happy to hear that one of her workers was recovering from an illness. A few minutes later, after she'd ended the phone call, she told me, "You really helped me out there." I thought she was being sarcastic and I felt bad that my contribution had been so paltry. But then she went on, "Just knowing that one word turned the whole conversation around."

She was serious. She actually felt grateful for my translation of one lousy word. I felt better. Maybe I wasn't such a complete failure. At least, not completely.

I wrote about my not-speaking-Spanish shame last year in a post called I'm a Bad Mexican, Part One. I ended that post optimistically, hoping that the complete lack of judgement I get from Spanish-dominant immigrants would counteract the judgement I've received from Mexican-Americans. I've found that American bilingual (Spanish/English) Hispanics tend to harshly judge those of us U.S.-born for whom Spanish has been a difficult second language (judgemental idiots).

It turns out the acceptance I've received from Spanish-dominant immigrants might never heal the shame I've had for almost 41 years. Sucks.

(Actually, for an American my Spanish is very good. I've got the vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, syntax, etc. But the psychological block of always thinking, "I'm going to blow it and look like an idiot and shame My People" is always there every single time I start to speak Spanish. And it sinks me every time.)

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