Mario’s cousin graduates college today. Their family, all Ecuadorians, traveled in from Ecuador and throughout the US for the celebration. Last night was the graduation party, with plenty of delicious Argentinean steaks, drinks, and non-English speakers. While there were a select few with whom I could carry on a conversation, the remaining people smiled politely, asked questions to Mario about me, and hugged me hello and goodbye, but that was the extent that we could communicate. Everyone was extremely generous and welcoming, but we could not talk at all.
Surrounded by Spanish and with few people with whom I could actually talk to, I played a game with myself: every time I knew a word that I could translate, I’d smile and nod my head. The conversations were swirling around me (not at me) while I patiently smiled and nodded to those nearest to me. Mario was there to translate for part of the time, but his family was visiting from far away and he hadn’t seen them in months, who am I steal all of his time? So, I smiled and nodded, watched some TV, and spoke in English to the ones who could.
When I got home last night, I started crying with how overwhelming it all had really been. As many of you know, I’m freakish about being in control. It was frustrating to me that I could do nothing. I’ve been blessed with good communication skills and the ability to talk to most people, but last night I had to sit helpless for 3 hours. And it wasn’t for a lack of effort on most people’s part, we wanted to talk, but didn’t have the means with which to do so.
The more Spanish words I learn, the more I can smile and nod, but until I can truly speak and understand the language, there will be many similar scenarios in my future. Mario is very sweet about it and empathizes since he’d been in the same situation 15 years ago when he moved to America.
With a hug and “You did great!” I went to bed exhausted but knowing that in the not so distant future, I’ll be meeting his parents, both of whom don’t speak English, and will be in Chicago for three weeks this summer. I’m excited to meet them and see who raised Mario to be the person he is today, but I’m nervous, too. I want to get to know them and hear funny stories about Mario’s childhood, yet it’ll be hard because we can’t directly converse. I certainly won’t learn Spanish before July, but I can show my happiness with my facial expressions and my body language…last night was good practice for that.