Today three generations of Mexican women, well two Mexican women and one half Mexican technically, sat in a living room and tried to say dificil, meaning difficult. And it was. My mom sometimes pretends to be a patient for a local hospital and this time they asked her to do a role in Spanish. She’s unsure of her ability, though to me she is fluent. Anytime I ask her what something means she can tell me and she can just start speaking in full Spanish sentences with ease, something I wish I could do. I can stumble through simple phrases though I usually butcher conjugation and put everything into the order it would be in English, not Spanish. I’m also awkward about speaking it because my mom says my accent is always off. She was worried about her pronunciation too so she went to her aunt, my great aunts house to make sure she could say things correctly. I tagged along because I try to visit once a week but I’d been falling behind.
My aunt is in her eighties, she’s the sweetest person I’ve ever known, forgets stuff often, smiles a lot, is a breast cancer survivor and always remarks how long its been since I’ve seen her, even if I saw her yesterday. She always tells me to forgive her because her house is a mess, it never is, and tells me to eat anything I can find. I used to go over to her house in the summers and they’d fill up a tiny pool for me and I’d use their swing set and play nintendo. She always forgets that I haven’t drank pop or eaten meat for years but then when I remind her she remembers they bought veggie burgers for anytime I stop by. We’re always happy to see each other. Basically, she’s my favorite person in the world, tied with my grandmother.
We visited with her and then my mom started going over what she had to say. My aunt grew up speaking Spanish whereas me and my mom didn’t but she says she’s forgotten a lot of it because she has no one to speak it to. Her and my uncle don’t have conversations with each other in Spanish anymore. But as he laughed at the three of us trying to figure out sixty and seventy, which was sesentna and which was setenta, I figured he still recalled a lot, he just never talks much and it was probably more entertaining to watch us stumble through it.
I wish I could speak Spanish. I know what I’ve learned in class. I can understand a little when people talk and I can usually pick up the gist of things if I’m reading. My aunt used to speak to me a little in Spanish as I grew up, she’d say the names of objects and sing in Spanish, and there was some phrase she always said about going to a dance, but she had four children who were not interested in learning it so she didn’t teach it to me or any of the grandkids. One of her grandchildren is majoring in it and he’s like in Spanish 23 or something ridiculous and is supposed to be fluent but no one in our family has actually heard him speak it. But I like trying to talk to her in Spanish, she gets so excited whenever I get anything right and then she gets into it and starts rattling off Spanish and I try to figure it out, and then she gets excited again whenever I do.
Today we were doing alright. Then my mom got to dificil and she couldn’t say it . She was determined and we must have spent close to at least twenty or thirty minutes on it. She kept trying but it’s like a lot of words in English. The most memorable one is cinnamon apples, but there are lots of them. Integrated is another. She just can’t get them right. The only way she can say words like those is if she breaks them up and slowly goes over each part. So she could say de fi sil but all together it came out defyiseal. I’d get it right half the time and butcher it the rest and then my aunt would say listen to Nicole and I’d do it wrong and my mom would copy that. Then my aunt would hear us say it so many times that she got confused and would have to pause before she could say it right. We stopped for a minute then my mom tried again and aunt looked at her and said, “Safety seal?” We stopped being productive around this time. We just kept saying the word, then trying to move on but coming back to it. Saying it over and over and confusing each other and laughing all the way through it. Somewhere along the line my uncle fell asleep but we just carried on, cackling over pronunciation and laughing over the words we couldn’t figure out.
My aunt grew up speaking Spanish but got c’s in her classes. She says the sheet my mom had to study, like her class was thought of by white people, or those trying to teach American Spanish. She just kept saying everything how she was raised to. That’s a stubborn side of her I’ve never really seen though I’ve heard the story several times.
As I was leaving and we hugged she told me as she always does to be a good girl. And she also watches as I walk out the door and she stays at the window just like she did when I was little, watching until I drive away, I used to make faces and she’d wave and make them back.
So I’m not sure I improved any at Spanish today but I could translate most of the page and it was one of the most entertaining lessons I had.