Monday, July 17, 2017

Crossing the divide

Dear Readers,

Over spring break my siblings, mom, and I piled into our van and drove the 935 miles to Allende, Nuevo León, Mexico. I never wrote about it on here because there just weren't any words to describe it--amazing and incredible and inolvidable just aren't strong enough adjectives. There are no adjectives capable of describing how beautiful it was. 

But I was flipping through my journal entries this morning and decided one of our stories needed to be shared. 

One night, we were enjoying tacos at this cool little restaurant off the highway. As we were all getting back into the van after our meal, a little girl came up to me. She hesitated for a moment, but bravery shone in her eyes as she asked, "Excuse me, are you of the United States?" 

I saw myself in those shining eyes and the carefully rehearsed line. I, so often, appear that way to hispanohablantes, all trembling anticipation and nervous excitement. I told her I was, and that her english was very good. 

Her dad, as mine would have done, rushed her away and nodded a quick "gracias" at me. Her mom, though, caught my arm: "Qué le preguntó?" 

She wanted to know what her daughter had just asked me. There was a momentary divide between mom and daughter. 

We are in Disney World right now, and there are masses of hispanohablantes. I've loved getting to speak Spanish here and there, but I haven't always loved the divides I've seen between english-speakers and these hispanohablantes. One afternoon my family and I waited in the wheelchair entrance (aka the exit for everyone else) and a woman frantically shoved past us to the cast member directing us. "Dónde está la cola? Dónde?" Honestly, everyone working at Disney World should be familiar with this phrase. And even if not, you would think it isn't too difficult to surmise given the circumstances. This cast member, though, backed away, shaking his head and saying "I don't know, I don't know." His response to the divide was flustered confusion.  I was honored to be able to explain the situation to her, but as she walked away I realized that I was only one person in a mass of people who didn't understand her, and one person was not enough. 

Later on in the trip, we sat in the Monsters Inc. Laugh Floor--an interactive comedy show. Each time the monster on stage called on a guest who only spoke Spanish, and their faces got redder and redder as they were put on the spot and didn't understand the questions. 

So often, in these scenarios, the gut reaction of many to the divide is annoyance and laughter. And when it is, I so wish I could flip the tables for every single English-speaking American, and place them in Mexico, and let them feel the way it feels to be confused and isolated by the language they speak. Actually, not once did I ever feel like we were bothering anyone with the English we spoke so loudly in Mexico. We were met with only love. 

That moment with the mom and daughter was so profound for me. I didn't take for granted the privilege that I was able to understand and communicate with both. I also noticed the grace with which the mom asked me her question. All the time I hear people, in reference to the musical sounds of Spanish being spoken around them, say: "I just hope they aren't talking about me." There's this anger, almost, that they would be so audacious as to speak a language that you don't understand, that doesn't belong here. Yet there was no anger in that mom's voice, no anger at the fact that we were taking up a large portion of the restaurant, speaking a language she didn't understand so loudly that her daughter took notice. There was just grace, and curiosity, and a desire to be included. 

Especially in this season of our nation's history, the divides are growing between our borders and the countries around us. This doesn't just happen, though. It is a conscious choice. That mom in Mexico made a choice in how she responded to us. 

I want to challenge you to respond in love, too, wherever and whenever you can. Love with the way you respond and the words you use. And while you're at it, learn a couple phrases in Spanish--not just because 37 million people in the US speak it, but because it is truly beautiful. 

Con todo mi amor, 
Your Blogger

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