Speaking Spanish brings out the best in people…

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The older Sabrina gets the more Spanish I speak. The more she learns to interact, the more I use Spanish—-sounds normal, right? Well the scenarios I am about to describe in the paragraphs below are beyond normal. Let me preface the stories with, when Sabrina was first born I was having a hard time (for many new-mommy reasons) making the effort to communicate with her in Spanish. Now, thankfully, it seems to fill our days and routines, although never did I imagine I would encounter scenarios like the ones I am about to share.

What I am starting to realize is that other people are noticing, more and more, that we are not speaking the dominant language–English. Speaking in Spanish to my baby girl is bringing out the best in strangers. Let me give you a glimpse…

The other day we were grocery shopping at a pretty popular market. It’s the kind of market that serves gourmet, chef-prepared foods—such a delight. We were actually walking passed the chef-prepared food aisle–I like to admire the food and dream about buying it guilt-free. At any rate, this man noticed that I was speaking to Sabrina in Spanish—I think I was saying something like, “No, Sabrina. No toques eso. No es juguete mi amor.” She was reaching for an odd shaped box with some sort of specialty bread in it. This was happening while I was also admiring the food when an older man turns to me, holding chef-prepared green salsa enchiladas in his hand, he looks at me with a sincere smile, and says, “This looks like something you may like.” WOW. I was shocked. I wasn’t offended because he was so sweet about it, in a way. Now, I may be totally off here, in that he may have uttered the same sentence had I been speaking in English. The thing is—me speaking in Spanish and strangers making comments about it, either directly or indirectly, is starting to become a pattern. Some of the readers may even blame it on the fact that I live in Texas, a predominately conservative state. Here’s the thing. I have experienced instances like these when I lived in a “liberal” state, too. I grew up in Orange County, CA and experienced similar stereotyped comments growing up all the time–at least it seemed like it was all the time. Can you believe that I was I was once asked (when I lived in a predominately white city in SoCal) where it was that I tanned!

So, the second scenario where me speaking Spanish has brought out the best in someone happened about a month ago. This one left me feeling shocked, yet a little hurt as well. I was in another grocery store. This one is just a traditional market. My abuelita was with me and I was speaking in Spanish with her, my daughter, and subsequently with the lady behind me in line. I can’t remember what my abuelita and I were talking about, probably about the food we had just bought. She wanted to make arroz mexicana. I had purchased some wine and the cashier starts motioning to me as if she were driving and saying “drivers license, drivers license.” I realized quickly that she didn’t know I could speak English as well which is totally fine. It’s her second comment that really upset me and I probably should have called her out on it right away. She, then, said to me (as I was taking out my drivers license and continuing to talk with my abuelita), “English, please. English!” I was, again, shocked. Interestingly, right at that same moment the lady behind (who knew English and Spanish) said, “Que linda es su bebita. Cuantos meses tiene?” In fact, now that I think about it I think she asked me that to, in her own way, tell the cashier that we can speak whatever it is we want. We weren’t even speaking to the cashier! The cashier, once again, said, “English, please. ENGLISH.” I proceeded to swipe my credit card on the machine, looked her in the eye and said (because she still thought I only knew Spanish), “Actually I can speak in either one, English or Spanish. I can speak both.”

What are some experiences you have had speaking a minority language in a majority-language context?

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4 responses »

  1. suzanne, you may enjoy this (sara rafael sent me here, by the way):

    It was a march on city hall day. the manifestacíon began near the kiosko at Calle Olvera. It was also the blessing of the animals day, sabes? I elected to skip the long walk and have breakfast instead. So the waiter and I exchange some repartée while I order, in Spanish. An anglo couple seated nearby take notice. When I eat, I taquear so there i was enjoying blanquillos, dipping and scooping and tacoing etc. and I notice the blonde staring at me. She turns to her husband and says not sotto voce, “that guy looks like he hasn’t eaten in a month!” and they laugh at me and steal glances as I enjoy my chow. A few moments later, a woman takes a seat outside the patio dining area and remarks to no one in particular, “my, there certainly are lots of animals here.” I turn to her and tell her, “Oh, it’s the blessing of the animals day and people bring dogs, cats, snakes, all kinds of pets to be blessed.” Out of the corner of my eye I see the blonde woman’s head pull into her shoulders like a startled tortuga. I speak really good English.

  2. That stuff (the second story) drives me crazy! I am a teacher, and I get frustrated when students tell other students they have to speak in English. I don’t work at a bilingual school, so yes, their work has to be done in English. But a conversation? Absolutely not.

  3. I like to go to Mexican restaurants and order in Spanish. Waiters normally speak to me in English, because my husband comes with me and he is white, but as soon as I talk to them in Spanish I can tell they feel more comfortable. I like this. Most of the times I end up having conversations with the cajeros or meseras. I love that. Another thing I do is to speak English with an accent, that way they immediately know I speak two languages.

  4. I am learning spanish now, but I used to live in Thailand and learned Thai when I was there. It wasn’t uncommon for the locals to assume that I couldn’t speak Thai, most of the “farangs” they met were just tourists or english teachers who had no desire to learn Thai. So it was normal that I get the sometimes nervous look when I would buy something at the local 7-11. One time, however, I was sitting in a street restaurant that I frequented often and two girls walked in and saw me and my mate eating. One says to the other, quite loudly, “oh man I want to go grab on of those farangs to be mine!” Unfortunately for them, they continued on in this manner until the got to the front of the line and the store owner(a good friend of mine at the point), informed them that me and my mate could speak Thai. I loved the look on their faces!

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