During my time in Antigua, my Spanish school decided to organize a field trip to a macadamia nut farm. We all hopped on a “chicken bus” (which I basically promised JT I would never ever do). Somehow a huge crowd of Guatemalan people surrounded us and one of the Spanish teachers shouted, “Donde esta la chinita?” That’s when I realized, “Oh snap! Every time they were referring to a chinita, they were talking about me. A chinita is a little Chinese girl. For days I wondered who the heck is this Chinese person? ” It’s obvious I’m the odd person out. On our field trip, I was the only dark skinned Asian girl amongst a group of pale-skinned gringos. You can distinguish that I am with foreigners because they usually are wearing a North Face backpack, a floppy Indiana Jones hat, white tube socks and maybe even a fanny pack. Sigh….
This is how my first day of Spanish school went down.
My Spanish teacher: Por que tu no hables español? Tu hombre es “Peralta.” (Why do you not speak Spanish? You should already know Spanish. Your last name is Peralta.)
Me: I grew up in the United States.
My Spanish teacher: But you’re not from the United States. Where are you really from? Where were you born?
Me: I really am from the United States. Soy de Tejas. En serio. I was born in Montreal, Quebec. I have two passports.
My Spanish teacher just looks at me so confused and takes her fingers and puts them on the edges of her eyes to make them super slanted. And asks me, “Por que? Los ojos chinitos?”
I find this a little offensive because classmates used to do that to me from elementary school all the way through college. (Maybe that’s an issue I can work through with my psychiatrist. Let’s bookmark that for another time.)
Me: Mis padres son de Pilipinas. Mi nombre es Peralta por que los conquistadores de España. Los Filipinos hablan una idioma otra “Tagalog.” Mis padres no hablan español. (My parents are from the Philippines. My last name is Peralta because of the Spanish conquistadors. Filipinos speak another language. My parents don’t speak Spanish.)
I swear I still think my teacher believes I made up a story as if I’m some fresa who was pretending I didn’t know Spanish and I only wanted to speak in English because I’m a super classy and arrogant American.
Now it gets really bizarre when JT is with me. He’s a tattoo’d blue-eyed white gringo who has been studying Spanish and traveling all over Latin America and Spain for over 8 years. When I have no clue what the Guatemalans are saying because they always talk so fast, JT ends up having to be my interpreter. I got into an argument with an ice cream man in Zone 1 Guate City because he refused to give me vanilla ice cream. JT had to get clarification and tells me that the ice cream man only had banana flavored ice cream. It makes me feel like a four year old when JT has to help me. The inability to communicate on a basic level is one of the most frustrating things. (I mean come on! I was able to order gelato and cappuccinos in Florence and in Paris. How effing hard is this?!?)
And I suppose using my frustration should motivate me to learn more Spanish. And I really do try. I even ask people to speak to me slower so I can converse with them, but once they admit that after a good 20-30 minutes of struggle they actually know English, all bets are off. I remember going to a seamstress to pick up a bag I got repaired and I read my whole script off of google translate. It’s awkward, and that’s just how life is when you are the odd person out.
There are days when I really do try to study. I spent a lot of time in Medellin studying how to teach yoga in Spanish. It was a 14 day program which included two yoga classes and Spanish instruction. I was probably thinking about yoga and Spanish for about at least 8 hours a day or more. Now that I’m back in Guatemala, I realized that I still speak Spanish slowly though. I know more words and learned more verbs and body parts. But, I am not an expert. That’s just the nature of how my brain operates and functions.
Being from Quebec and just having a natural proclivity to picking up the French accent, I’ve been studying French for a very long time (4 years in high school and another 4 years in Houston). I had to quit French school last year in Houston because the Spanish words were too similar to what I knew in French. It was one of the saddest decisions I ever made. I felt like my knowledge of French was so precious to me and to see it just fade away was depressing. And, the idea of going back to Montreal riding a bike down Rue St. Denis or hanging out at Le Centre Pompidou in Paris or visiting Monte Carlo was just never gonna happen for me.
So there are days when I get so angry and frustrated and I just pop in a French movie on Netflix or I start rocking out to Stromae. I think about the good times I have had in French school, all the awesome moments drawing at the Musee D’Orsay and seeing my childhood home in Montreal. And I realize if I can pick up French or learn Sanskrit words in yoga teacher training, I will eventually one day learn Spanish (at least at a 3 year old’s level).
So if you are out there struggling to learn something new, my heart goes out to you. Keep the faith and keep husslin. It gets easier each time we open our Spanish books, we unroll our mats in the yoga studio or we decide to create a new sketch in our journals. You are too precious and brilliant to give up.