Language Barrier

My Spanish isn’t great, but Mama’s English isn’t much better. Our conversations are always in Spanish though, except that I speak in what I like to call, Spanglish. I’m not completely fluent and struggle with grammar and forms other than present tense. I find it difficult to manage what I’m trying to say. I try to use present when speaking of the past, and I just feel like an idiot, and to be honest, at times a disappointment. I wish I were a fluent Spanish speaker more than anything. If I were given three wishes, I swear that would be one of them. It would make me feel so much closer with Mama, and help the ease and flow of our conversations, and would also open the doors to a whole lot more talk.
When we’re having a conversation that has more to do with than just our usual everyday ritual of: ‘¿Qué hiciste hoy?’ (What’d you do today) ¿Qué has comido?’ (What’d you eat today) ‘Hablado con mami?’ (Have you spoken to your mom) ‘¿Dónde está Natalie?’ (Where is Natalie) and ‘¿Has visto a Ian?’ (Have you seen Ian), I often have to pause our conversation and look up translations online in order to be clear. This usually helps, but it makes it a little awkward. She understands me for the most part, and is always very nice about it. She doesn’t make fun of me, (though sometimes we both have to laugh at ourselves) and always tries her best to understand what I’m telling her.
It’s cute because I can especially tell when she doesn’t get something but doesn’t want to insult me or hurt my feelings, I know this because I do the exact same thing to her when I’m left in the dark. When I don’t understand it, I usually reply with “Oh,” or “Si.” But this doesn’t work all of the time. When she does this to me, I always know she doesn’t understand because most of the time I’m expecting more of a reaction from her. And that’s when I have to resort to Other times I flat out ask her, ‘what does that mean?’ And it’s a question I hate to muster. That’s probably the only times she actually becomes frustrated with our language barrier; when I don’t completely get something she’s telling me. And that part really sucks. She thinks I should know more Spanish, and I should, but I feel that she should know more English.
My Spanish should and could be a lot better especially having my Mama, Mom, and the majority of my family being fluent Spanish speakers. And when you add six years of taking it in school, you’d think it would have helped, but truthfully I feel it has only made it worse, and to me, that much more confusing. What you’re taught in school it is nothing like the actual language spoken with a native Spanish speaker. And it goes without saying that Mama isn’t guiltless, her English should be a lot better considering she’s lived in America for over 40 years. But, with that being said, we make it work.
When I was little, I spoke Spanish a lot better then I do now because Mama lived with me up until I think 8 years old? And then she moved to Dominican Republic and then eventually to Florida with my Aunt to help her with her kids. I remember every night saying my prayers with her, in Spanish, and I’m pretty sure it was the “Lord’s Prayer.” I can’t even think about the words in Spanish now, and it’s weird to think that when I was much younger, I could. Still, Mama loves me and accepts that I don’t speak her language perfectly well, and acknowledges that I try. At least I don’t let it get in the way of our relationship, which I so easily could.
It’s funny because even though I’m not the greatest at speaking Spanish, I managed to be a translator for my manager at work the other day who needed help understanding one of the employees explain a fight that occurred at the restaurant the night before. I couldn’t believe that I was literally the only person in the entire place that slightly spoke and understood Spanish, but I was. After he asked he asked me to translate, I immediately regretted telling him that I knew the language a bit. I was so afraid I would embarrass myself, but both he and I were impressed and surprised about just how much I did know. Mama was proud too, of course. (And my mom) It was then that I realized just how valuable it is to be immersed in another language.
I’m doing my best to learn more, and to become a better speaker. This summer I hope to spend some time in the Dominican Republic to work on my skills, I really think that’s the only way to go about it. I hope it ends up being successful, but even if it doesn’t, I know that the more I speak the language with Mama everyday, the more I’m bound to improve!

P.S. Thought you guys would like to know I’m seeing Mama very soon. I’m going to a journalist conference in Orlando for a week, and staying with Mama and my aunt and uncle. The countdown begins: 11 days!

Have any of you experienced a similar situation with a loved one or family member? Do any of you speak another language, or have members in your family whose first language isn’t English?





There’s No Place Like Home

This past weekend I returned home to wonderful Long Island. I did not necessarily want to go home, I wasn’t homesick by any means, (it’s only been one month since I’ve last been home or seen my family, and I’ve gone longer without seeing them in the past). It wasn’t because of the Jewish holidays- I’m not Jewish. Nor was it for a special occasion, such as a wedding in which my best friend, Aly, did return home for from Binghamton. I visited home because I had a specific task in mind that I needed to accomplish in order to ease some of the stress of what has become the next step in my life- Graduate School.

This topic has come up briefly before, but it’s time to talk about it in a larger sense. I feel very unprepared having decided to graduate a year early, one might agree that this isn’t an unnatural feeling. Because I’ve advanced a year, I’ve had to rush into figuring out my next move and all that follows suit a lot quicker (cough, cough, GREs, applications, recommendation letters, essay after essay, check after check!) However, because I am not completely ‘on the ball,’ (I’m more hanging off the ball by my feet), I do not have time to take GRE prep courses, resulting in my decision not take the GREs at all, (I really, really don’t want to). Fortunately for me because I want to go to graduate school for journalism or creative writing, some schools I’m interested in applying to do not require them (Thank you Columbia).

While I came home specifically to look at graduate schools, which only resulted in looking at Columbia, all in all, it was a productive five and a half days. The most memorable of it however, wasn’t the experience to Columbia, even though I immediately fell in love with everything about it, the steps to the library, the students playing drums outside, how easy it was to find what building or room you were looking for (a wonder to me since I’m directionally impaired). Nor was it the drive to Columbia, (not smart) in which I thought traffic had caused my mother and I to miss our 1:00 appointment, which resulted in me crying and saying there was no point in coming home because this was the only reason why I did. (Well I thought the appointment was 1, but it really ended up being at 3, a sure sign from God that I belong there, obviously) It wasn’t even my mom calling me dramatic for crying, but then apologizing for it two minutes later and agreeing that if she were me, she would be pretty upset also. It wasn’t seeing my friends, (though that was great) particularly Aly, which is always memorable because she never fails to remind me of why I love her- she’s beyond dysfunctional. Nope, it wasn’t any of that; the most memorable part of all was my mom overhearing my phone conversation with Mama.

I don’t think I’ll ever forget my mom’s reaction, it was both hysterical and affirmed what I’ve suspected all along: she is so jealous of our relationship! Not unknown to you all are Mama’s and my “rituals.” The one I’m referring to is when we’re getting off the phone and tell each other, “I love you – I love you more,” “I miss you – I miss you more,” and so on. Well, when my mom heard this, she was repulsed (but in a good way). She was sort of taken aback by the mushiness and continued to make fun of it, but I know she’s just jealous, which leads me to the next part. My mom and I visited my Godmother who lives just up the street from me, hers and my mom’s mothers are sisters and her mother is currently visiting with my Mama. For some reason we got on the topic of Mama and I mentioned to my Aunt that we speak everyday. My mother was apparently unaware of this and responded in a state of both surprise and yes, jealousy. “We don’t talk everyday!” she joked. But actually we do, she text messages me saying goodnight every night, but no, compared to Mama, we do not. (In my mom’s defense though, she is really busy). I found her reaction comical and sweet. I am extremely close with my mom, I tell her everything and we have the best time together, but even she knows that Mama and I can’t be messed with. We are a force to be reckoned with!



When I was a little girl…

Assignment: Tell a lie about yourself

When I was a little girl, Mama would take me with her on her trips to Dominican Republic. Out of all of my cousins and my sister and brother, I was the one who came along with her. I’m not sure why it was me, or how at the age of just 4 years old that Mama and I were already very close, but we were.
I remember feeling as if she were my mother. I remember thinking that my mom and dad must be too busy with my sister and brother, so as a result Mama felt it best to take matters into her own hands and relieve my parents of me. I believe it’s commonly referred to as the middle child syndrome. But, with Mama taking total responsibility over me, it made sense, it leveled the playing field; one adult per child. I didn’t mind it much because I’m the one who got to travel and experience the cool things.
There are pictures of me playing with chickens that to me were just pets, but to my family members meant dinner. Pictures of me all dolled up in makeup (I was obsessed as most young girls are) pushing along a stroller full of barbies, obviously my best friends. Pictures of me on a horse, climbing a tree to catch limonsijos (a fruit that grows in the Dominican) and just of me beaming from ear to ear. I was happy, I was having fun.
Most of my memories associated with the visits are due to these photographs. I don’t remember it entirely, but bits and pieces of it are familiar in my mind. Apparently, I celebrated my 4th birthday there as the pictures let on, and as I flipped through the dusty album, I realized that my parents and my siblings weren’t there.
At the time, it certainly didn’t affect me, but looking back now, how could they have missed their daughter’s birthday, allowing me to celebrate it in another country without them? I can’t imagine missing a birthday of any of my future children. It saddened me in thinking about this but Mama’s love for me is as much as a parents and a grandparents.
It’s no wonder why Mama and I are so close. Even as a young girl she was always the one there, much like she still is today.

Mailbox Full

Today I received a missed call from Cindy, my boyfriend’s mom. We’re very close and so it was no surprise in finding that she had called. After she called though, she text messaged me telling me to delete some of my voicemails because my inbox was full and no one can leave me messages. I was unaware of this. I’ve known for a little while that people have been unable to leave me messages but I thought that it was my own fault. I recently connected my iPad to get my voicemails rather then my cell phone because I hate going through the process to finally hear the message. However, that too soon became annoying to me and I got rid of it. Now, I get no voicemails at atll. I thought that because I did that, I deactivated my voicemail some how and haven’t figured out a way to get it working again, I was wrong.

After considering Cindy’s advise, I decided to call my voicemail and see what happens. To my surprise, she was right. My mailbox was full and in that discovery, I encountered a whole different type of problem. I can’t bring myself to delete the messages!
As the readers of my blog know, I speak to my Mama every day on the phone. We both share the calling, kind of. I try to beat her to it most times because that way I just feel better, but because she has a lot more free time then I do, she’s often calling me most. This is tricky though because she usually catches me at bad times like during class or while I’m at work. As a result, she is forced to leave me a voicemail (because heaven forbid she didn’t).

This is the sort of funny part. Some people might find it strange that we speak so often and may even wonder what we talk about. And honestly, the content of our conversation is pretty much the same thing daily. I start off saying, “Sion Mama,” which is Spanish for what I think means, “Bless you,” but I could be wrong. Then, she responds with a phrase I won’t attempt to spell or translate because I really don’t know what it stands for, something to do with God.

We then ask each other how we are doing, what we are doing and what we’ve done that day. She always asks me the same things: what have I eaten, whether I’ve spoken to my Mom, or my sister, and whether or not I’ve seen my boyfriend, Ian. Also, she asks where my roommate and best friend, Natalie is, and if I had work that day, and if I did, how it went.

On my part it depends on the day of the week. If it’s Monday or Thursday, I always ask how bingo went for her the night before and how much she made. (Yes, my Mama is an avid bingo go-er, and yes, I have gone with her a few times before and yes, I hate it. But that’s a whole other blog entry). I always ask her whether she too has spoken to my Mom and while I never ask her what she has eaten, she usually tells me anyway. I also ask her who else is home with her, (she lives in Florida with my aunt – her daughter, my uncle, and three of their kids, Dionisio, 10, Immanuel, 5, and Hannah, 2). But to her we are never completely alone even if there is no one else in the house, because God is always with us.

I love our rituals and I love our conversations, what we talk about isn’t so much what matters but just that we speak in general. The end of our conversations end the same way everyday too. My friends have memorized it by now and usually say it along with me in the background when they hear me on the phone. “I love you,” “I love you more.” “I miss you,” “I miss you more.” “Have a good night,” “You too.” “Sleep well,” “You too.” “I love you,” “I love you too.” “Goodnight,” “Goodnight/Bye.” “Bye,” “Bye.” I like to be the last one that hangs up, although this used to be her thing. She likes to be the one who says bye 15 times.

But now that you get the gist of our daily conversations, we can return to the issue of my voicemail. As soon as my phone notifies me that I have one, I instantly know that it’s from her. She is the only person who leaves me voicemails, literally. And the best part is that like our conversations, her messages usually consist of the same thing too.

(Please note that this is not a complaint in any way, shape, or form. I love the messages, and I would die without them and sometimes they do vary in substance.)

[Translated into English] “Hi/Yes Vero, my life/my love/my princess, How are you my life/my love? I’m calling to see how you are, I am doing well, I hope you are too. Where are you? Are you at school? Are you working? Sleeping? Or in the shower? I don’t know. But I hope everything is good, call me when you hear this message. I love you very much, I miss you very much, and I’ll talk to you later. Okay my life? Bye, bye.”

To some extent, the messages go as stated above. Sometimes she lets me know what she’s doing at the moment, how long it’s been since we’ve last spoken, and what time it is that she’s calling. But no matter the case, I cannot delete them. How can I? And that is only part of the problem.

The second part is a direct result of the first. Mama can’t leave me any more messages! She hates that she can’t, I enjoy hearing them, but I can’t bring myself to delete the ones I have. HELP!

Once Upon A Time…

Assignment: Tell a story using magical realism

I have no idea what I’m going to do after I graduate in May. I am beginning to apply to graduate schools but the only one I desperately want, no, need, to go to I’m not even sure I stand a chance to get in. Columbia University.

When I told my grandma, who barely speaks any English my hopes for the future in the language I speak to her in, “Spanglish,” she freaked out.
“Columbia! You’re not going there, it’s very dangerous! Why would you want to go there, it’s not safe!” I quickly assured her that I meant Columbia as in the college and not the country.
She breathed a sigh of relief and then continued asking questions. “How much more school am I going to do?” “Would I be closer to home?” “Would I live at home?” And so on. Because for her, my attending undergrad so far away from Long Island (eight hours driving but only 45 minutes by plane) has been quite the stress and strain on her life even though she resides in Florida. As she loves to remind me all of the time the reasons as to why I shouldn’t be in Buffalo, “your family isn’t here, you shouldn’t be so far from them, there’s no one here to help me, I’m all on my own and all by myself.” But, really I’m not because I have my boyfriend, who she loves, and my best friend, who she also loves and plenty of other friends that although she has not met them all, still requires that I tell them all hello and goodbye for her.
But as she is in Florida going on and on, I am now graduated from college and trying to figure out what comes next. Being in a rut at age 20 not knowing what to do with my life, I naturally follow what everyone does after they graduate college and not ready to grow up quite yet and decide to travel the world. I start off in Spain, make my way to Paris and find myself stuck in England, which only makes sense since English is what my degree is in and also where some of the greatest writers in history have come from. I am in England and know absolutely no one but I quickly make friends with my flat mates (that’s what they call them in England) Kove is from Russia and Danielle, Turkey. Together we make up Charlie’s Angels, only the international version.
We take over England one bar and museum at a time. We go out for dinners stay up all night drinking the most exquisite wines that we allow strange men to buy for us. After weeks of wondering and sightseeing I find that I love the art of not doing anything at all. Who needs degrees when there are countries to visit and life experiences to be gained? Paying bills? Who needs that? Money? What nonsense. And one night doing what the three of us do best, eating, laughing and catching the attention of those around us, a man walks up to me and asks if he may buy me a drink. I can’t be rude so I tell him he may and to my astonishment after we’ve had one too many drinks reveals that he is of the Belgian royal family, which I’m sure he did not mean to do on purpose but with liquid courage and all, wishes that he make me his princess.
Even though he’s only spent less than three hours in my company, he can’t imagine his life without the feeling that I give to him. And I can’t imagine missing out on the opportunity to become a princess, being able to live like this forever and of course not giving him the feeling I give him that he obviously cannot bear to live without would simply be cruel. After considering long and hard, I finally tell him I accept. We kiss and it’s magical, a confirmation that this is meant to be. I tell him I must ring my grandma at once and tell her the exciting news!

I’d give anything for another minute…

Assignment: sum up your life in six words

Often times I find myself regretting a lot. And I hate to regret. If I had been more brave or bold, if I had just gone with my gut or just followed my heart then I wouldn’t be stuck looking back wishing I had done something differently, or made a better decision, or stuck with my instinct, before it was too late. Regret is the most annoying feeling because no matter what you do or how hard you wish you could have a do over or even how much it bothers you or stays on your mind, there is absolutely nothing you can do about it. You then spend endless amounts of time repeating the scenario over in your mind and envisioning yourself doing it differently, hoping that some miracle will occur allowing yourself to go backwards in time and do it all over again, the right way. And yet, you know that will never happen and your forced to get over it, accept it and move on, perhaps learn from it and do better the next time. But what happens when the regret is so big, so life changing, that not even time can heal your wounds?
Fortunately I haven’t found this to be true for myself. Sure, I have plenty of regrets but nothing major. I would love to repeat 10th grade when I drank too much on the night of homecoming and ended up in the hospital or the time I forgot one of my best friend’s birthdays. Actually, I’d probably do high school all over again right my wrongs and take things more seriously. However, life doesn’t work like that, you don’t get a daily time machine, all you can do is live and learn.
It’s interesting because when you look back at all of the things you wish you’d done differently, you realize that those moments make up who you are. For starters, now, I’m conscious of my hate of regret and so when I’m forced with a complex, I ask myself, is this something I’m going to look back and be proud of? Or, if I choose not to do it or not to say something, will I be disappointed in myself for missing out on the opportunity? It’s not a fool proof plan by any means. Sometimes I don’t even have to ask myself before it’s too late and the moment has passed for me to do something that I wanted to. For example, I write a fashion column for the school’s paper, The Spectrum, and today I needed to ask someone if I could take a picture of them. The girl was a prime model of what I was looking for, and yet I couldn’t find the courage or confidence to walk over to where she was sitting with her friends and interrupt her with my request. It’s just plain awkward, but that’s what this column calls me to do, go up to random people and ask them about their outfits and take pictures, and I signed up for it so as I’m just starting out, I hope I’ll get better.
However, the best decision I’ve probably ever made resulted in asking myself whether or not I was going to regret it in the long run. It was my freshmen year and my Papa, living in Florida, had been sick for a very long time. He was dying slowly over the course of four or five months and every time I saw him I would have to say goodbye in fear that it would be the last time I saw him. In early November, 2009, my mom called me to tell me she was flying to Florida to say that final goodbye, that it was time. It was unreal because it didn’t seem plausible that he would ever really leave us, especially with the amount of goodbye kisses we had bid him so many times. I was torn whether or not I too, should fly down and see him and be there for my Mama, the person who means the most to me in this world. For some, it may not have required a lot of thought, but with me, an avid student who never missed a class, and in the middle of her very first college semester, it wasn’t an easy decision. But, in the grand scheme of things I realized there will always be school, there won’t always be my Papa and I was right. That night I booked my flight and left early the next morning. I surprised my whole family, even my mom, and spent the day with my Papa. That night he passed away in his sleep, had I not have made the ultimate decision to fly down and be there with him, I would have regretted it for the rest of my life.
Sadly for some, that decision often comes too late and many people are forced wishing and exchanging promises with God, I’d give anything for another minute…

A grandmother is a little bit parent, a little bit teacher, and a little bit best friend.

My mama (or commonly referred to as grandma for some) is my favorite person in the world. She means more to me than anything and I couldn’t imagine a better candidate for a grandmother. She is from the Dominican Republic and though she has lived in New York for the most part of her life, does not speak English fluently. I, unfortunately do not speak Spanish fluently and though at times it gets frustrating our relationship is incredibly strong. She is my mother’s mother and while I am very close with my mom, my mama is like my second mother. I speak to her on the phone every single day (literally) and though she lives in Florida while I am back and forth between Long Island and Buffalo, I still see her at least three times a year. I honestly consider her one of my best friends who I tell everything to. When going about a theme for my blog, I was in the dark. Today in class when critiquing our groups’ magical realism roughs and discussing themes I realized that I already had a common thread in both of my blogs, my mama. She easily has an affect on everything I do even when I don’t realize it. So that is what I’ve decided to center this blog around; her influence on my life, our daily conversations, and her unending, never failing, unconditional love.