Saturday, May 07, 2011

Qué dijiste?

My earliest memory about Spanish was that I pretended to strangers that I was a lot more proficient than I actually was. I was in a bookstore, and I was probably around 8. I was browsing the Spanish book section (I don’t know why, maybe because even then I thought Spanish was cool?), and a stranger saw me and said “Oh, you speak Spanish?” And I said “yes” and I grinned and started paging through the book (It was a kindergarten book with a few words per page) and pretending I knew what I was doing (I didn’t, really).

Growing up in San Diego I had a lot of exposure to Spanish but I didn’t actually start speaking it or learning it until my freshman year in high school. From the very first moment in that class, I was in love. My Spanish teacher was Mexican, and although she was a little tough on us freshmen (wise on her part), she was fair and she was kind. I still remember the Spanish songs I learned in that class, and even some of the lines of the dialogues we memorized. “Beto, Beto Chavez.” “Ay, ay, ay! No hay carpetas?” “Dulce de chocolate, chocolate candy, chocolate candy. Uno para mi y uno para ti. One for you and one for me!” This was the actual song, by the way. I’m not translating. This was in the days before Dora the Explorer, I might add. We didn’t need it back then.

By the time I was a senior, Spanish wasn’t so much a pleasure as a chore and a series of increasingly daunting tasks. That’s because from one year to the next, I skipped a good two years’ worth of Spanish classes. I was planning on only skipping one year to take an AP class, but that class didn’t fit with my schedule so I took the next available AP class, which was the even more advanced Spanish literature. So I went from just barely starting to study the subjunctive tense to reading classic Spanish and Latin American tomes and writing essays about them. I didn’t know what was going on half the time, when I spoke in class it was just in the simple present or the simple past (no subjunctive, ever), and my mom and I split the task of looking up all the words I didn’t know from my assigned reading because it would have taken me all night to do it by myself. Sometimes I would read an entire short story thinking the narrator was a man and then get to class and discover it was actually a woman. That’s how much I was groping in the dark. But somehow, almost inexplicably, I took the AP exam and I got the highest score. From then on, I was absolutely committed to Spanish.

Then later:

Spanish is how I picked my major in college

Spanish is how I picked my concentration in grad school.

Spanish is why I travel.

Spanish is how I met my husband.

Spanish is how I got my current job, which is challenging, but good.

Spanish has opened doors for me.

My dream job when I was 15 was to be a high school Spanish teacher. Maybe I’ll do that someday, and help make Spanish open doors for others.

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