Hispanic Heritage Month is almost over! (And does anyone know why the month runs from September 15 to October 15? … I guess I should’ve looked that up…) BUT! More importantly, today we have Inés Saint who was a total rockstar and great about doing things right off the cuff. So, I hope you enjoy this post! Also, welcome Inés because she’s new to ALBTALBS! We want her to like us! 😉
When Worlds Collide
I moved to the United States from Puerto Rico for the first time when I was four years old and I remember being very nervous about the move. My biggest fear: learning a new language. The day before we left, my mom and my aunt were upstairs, talking about our big move, and I would interrupt them from time to time, yelling up from the bottom of the stairs, asking my mom if a word I’d just made up meant something in English. After throwing out at least twenty made-up words, I hit upon a real one: cake. I felt so proud!
My first days of school in New Jersey were riddled with misunderstandings. I didn’t know how to tell my teacher I didn’t like chocolate milk, so I pinched my nose and poured it down a drain to show her. She was not happy. Another day, I didn’t know what I was supposed to be writing on a brown paper bag the teacher had passed out, so I copied the kid next to me. The teacher said something like, “Your name’s not Michael!” when I turned it in, and everyone laughed. I knew that’s what she’d said because I knew the kid’s name, but I never would have guessed that’s what the boy was spelling out!
Little by little, I learned the language, and little by little, I fit in. By the time we moved to Boston, I felt like I belonged. Boston especially was a wonderful place for me. Everyone there seemed so proud of their heritage. So many of my friends’ parents were interested in my culture, and they knew their own so well. Everyone was ‘one eighth this, or one fourth that’.
But a few years later, I was back on the island. I had forgotten so much Spanish! The mistakes and misunderstandings began again. Imagine a shy seventh grader mistaking the word bracelet for bra and the word embarrassed for pregnant. It wasn’t a fun time. After a while, though, I became friends with a girl who grew up in Tallahassee and our experiences were so similar, everything felt like it would be okay. Soon, I became friends with kids who had grown up in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Virginia, and even Ireland! It helped to know others like me, who felt caught between two worlds. They got the way I felt.
Throughout the years, I continued to move back and forth. I’ve lived in both places every decade of my life. Sometimes it feels like I have one foot on the main land and the other on the island. There are times when I feel I don’t really belong in either place, and there are times when I feel like my experiences make me fit in anywhere. I’ve also had moments when I’ve been judged and rejected because of the language I speak and because of my heritage. In both places.
But I’m thankful for each and every experience because I believe they’ve all made me a more compassionate person. I’m always able to spot a person who feels left out and few things make me happier than making a person feel welcome. My own children moved with my husband and me from Puerto Rico to Ohio a few years ago and they say it helped that I understood what they were going through. My oldest child says he felt he belonged the day he said the word, “dude”, and it came out naturally. I knew exactly how he felt.
Right now, we’re still in Ohio. We’re lucky to live in a place with a wonderful Puerto Rican population. I’m also very involved in my kids’ schools and I’ve made some great friends who’ve lived right here in Ohio their whole lives. Last Christmas, our Puerto Rican friends planned a Parranda for us. A Parranda is something like Christmas caroling, but Puerto Rican style… LOUDER! The music is fun and rhythmic and I knew some of my American friends would enjoy it (for the record, I know we’re all Americans ;)).
Over one hundred people came to our Parranda and our house was filled with music, laughter and friendship that night. Our American friends and their children truly appreciated getting a glimpse of a fun and important part of Puerto Rican culture. We served a traditional chicken stew and I was touched by how interested everyone was in learning about our food and customs.
It was the first time my two worlds had collided and it was a beautiful moment for me. I realized I didn’t really live between two worlds. We all live in one world, made up of the people we choose to surround ourselves with.
To this day, people in my town talk about the Parranda. I’ve been asked when we’ll host another one, and people I’ve never met who have heard about it have asked if they can come to the next one. It’s hard to explain how absolutely proud this makes me. Proud of my Puerto Rican friends for always being so generous and willing to share everything they can about our culture in such fun ways, and proud of my American friends, for wanting to learn, enjoy, and share the experience with others.
When I told my son the story of how I learned my first word in English, he made an important observation: at the end of the day, we’re all just ‘dudes’ (and ‘dudettes’?) who eat ‘cake’. I wish more people understood this! The world would be a better place indeed.
I love this post! And not just because I LOVE cake! 😉 Also, I’m now not sure what my first word was. And that makes me a little sad. Cake is a great first [English] word. 😀 I’d love to hear your thoughts! Come on, who couldn’t be happy and warm fuzzy after reading this?