Buscando a Mi Voz
We were in the uber on the way to dinner. Cameron was up front in the passenger seat, and there were four of us crammed in back. Me, Erin, Tim, and Tim's girlfriend, Anita. Cam and Tim are American, but they've spent the last 5 years in Argentina. Anita is Argentinean. The dinner was at a friend of Cam's place, it was a home-cooked three course meal. As we neared the house, Cam announced, "esta noche vamos a hablar solamente en español." Translation: We're only speaking in Spanish tonight.
"Hell yes." I thought to myself. My Spanish has been getting better over the last few months. I'm not fluent, but I'm sure any of my Spanish teachers would be proud of where I am today. I was also excited. When we got there, Erin and I introduced ourselves and told the host, Eve, where we were from, and a little background on what the hell we were doing in Valparaíso. It was small talk, we've had these conversations probably a hundred times by now.
If you know me, you're probably aware that I don't necessarily mind being the center of attention. I love telling stories and making people laugh. It's who I am. As we sat down to dinner, the conversation picked up. We talked about the food, where it came from, the problems with finding local meats, etc. I wanted to contribute. I had stories, thoughts, opinions, maybe even a fact or two. But they were all in English, and I didn't want to bore the table with a poorly translated, horribly conjugated interpretation. These were complex ideas I was trying to put out there, and it wasn't until I couldn't express them effectively that I learned of my true limitations in this familiar albeit new language.
Mom's famous advice: "Be yourself." But what if you can't? What if in that moment, you couldn't? What if you hadn't truly understood why you had been learning Spanish in the first place? I had always told myself the following:
- "It will make traveling so much easier"
- "You'll be able to connect with so many more people in Southern California"
- "You'll discover a new culture"
The list goes on, but I had never been faced with the most important reason: "When you're with other people speaking Spanish, you can be yourself." What a fucking revelation. Since January, I've been skating by with my gringo Spanish skills. They're not bad, but they're not great. It doesn't help that Chilean Spanish is notoriously difficult to speak and understand, but last weekend was a wake up call. My time in Chile is sadly limited. I don't have a return date yet, but it's coming, and I don't want to look back on my time here as a wasted opportunity to learn one of the most complicated variations of the Spanish language.
This blog, Cities | Places | Things, is for you, but it's also for me. It's a way to watch myself develop in a new country. It's a way to keep in touch with the people I love. But this post; this post is a promise to myself. A #verbal, which conveniently, is #verbal in Spanish too. A written promise to relentlessly pursuing my own voice in Spanish. Wish me luck.
PS: Packy, Mike, and I started a collaborative playlist, which you're more than welcome to listen to! You can follow it here, or play it below.