This is the story of my Aunt Molly who came to this beautiful country, the United States, in search of a better future where speaking English and even better to be bilingual was “sophisticated”. What happened to her at that time was unbelievable but when I remember her stories and compare with my own it is when I really understand the experiences as immigrant in this country.
But tell me, who has not been in this situation that as soon as you arrive at the U.S. airport to find English signs everywhere, and when you tried to pronounce them it is completely different than the way that they are suppose to sound? Then you realize that you have to learn English because you want to communicate with others as soon as possible. You start image yourself having a fluent conversation and using all the “wh” words and sound like a new expression “whatchu-whatchu”.
I remember the day I got home and was doing homework for my English class that I was taking at the school; where I preferred to talk with “Latinos” than practice my “whatchu-whatchu”. Learning English was tormenting me and I have to tell you this because I want you to understand that was not easy for me or for anyone who came to this country at age 23. Anyhow, that day I was reading to my sister my homework and I said, “The Polaice is …. Blah, blah” and she responded, “what do you mean by “The Polaice“? I answered her (very proud of my pronunciation), “what do you mean? Are you serious? Do you not understand me?” She took my book and finally understood that I was talking about The Police! ha, ha ,ha… I laughed hard then and laugh now, but to be honest with you I was very frustrated at the beginning, and I still have many things to correct. This is all part of the price of moving to a new country and learning the culture and language. To start a new life requires much effort and sacrifice especially at the beginning. Of course we always have a resistance to change; and we want to keep it the way we know or are used to. It is normal to feel like that! How can we forget our roots and everything we had done in a lifetime?
However, my Aunt Molly started to feel like a “gringa” and every time she got on a bus she was listening and observing others’ conversations. If she saw a word that did not understand in the advertisement immediately she was looking in the dictionary for the unfamiliar words. She tried to understand what it was about it. At this time, she had a precarious and small English / Spanish dictionary; nothing like Google translator or any instant translator tool that it has been invented since then. She was improving her English but for one reason or another always put her in a precarious state.
She tried to make her conversations more fluid. Learning a new word or phrase was like receiving a new toy. Using the phrase, “I mean …” to any unfinished sentence every time she was talking. This made her feel very “cool”, like she was “Americanized”.
My aunt Molly got a new job as a volunteer at an elderly center; which made things difficult. The situation was not ideal. My poor aunt Molly would say it was like communicating with “smoke signals”, but she always came with a great attitude. She would laugh to herself about all the funny experiences during her working day.
She ended up helping those bilingual patients; by taking on her version of a new language “Spanglish”. In one of those new experiences; she had to attend a Puerto Rican man named Orlando. There was a day, he was cleaning his room and wanted to get rid of some papers. Aunt Molly was helping him and told him to “throw” them in a “caneca”. There was an immediate lack of understanding; and she might as well been speaking to him in Chinese. “Old Orly ” (Viejo Orly) as she affectionately use to call him, did not understand “caneca ” (trash can). In Puerto Rico to the “trash can” is called “zafacón” or in other words a container used to deposit garbage.
Today I decided to share my stories with you because, I want you to try new things. These types of situations did not just happen to me or Aunty Molly. These situations have happened to many that have come to United States. You have to endure trials to learn the language, idioms, expressions and everything.
I know that it is difficult to get information; especially when it is in another language. We are in the same position. Today if you need to, you can use a body gesture, mimic, a dictionary, a simultaneous translator, to be understood. The important thing is that it is all part of learning. It is hard for everyone because nobody is born knowing everything. It is in our hands and with in our efforts to succeed or not. Success is in wanting to imitate, try and practice. Enjoy your learning process and let fear to go away!