Tonight was a personal victory for me as I ordered dinner at a local Mexican grill named Tacos Del Ganadero. The food is excellent, the prices are fair, but my only issue: they mostly speak Spanish....
...and I don't.
I remember when I wanted to be the "Great Brown Hope" for the local diocese. With only one other Hispanic priest in a city where 20% of the population is Latino, I thought I could bring my culture as well as my calling to the diocese and help at a local parish. I only had to learn Spanish so I could fulfill that role.
Unfortunately, I never learned Spanish as a child. Mom grew up in a city where other languages were frowned upon or made fun of during school. Rather than put us through the same "torture," none of my generation was taught Spanish in the household.
"Mexican Americans, go to school to take Spanish, and get a B." -Cheech Marin
When I'm put in a position where I have to speak Spanish, I do it softly and meekly. I feel embarrassed that I don't know it like I should. Perhaps that's the thing that gets me: people assume I should speak Spanish because of my color. What if I spoke Gaelic? or Bosnian? Or maybe I spoke some dialect of Swahili?
Regardless, people of all races, including mine, would still ask: "How come you don't speak Spanish? It would be a benefit if you can speak two languages." So I do my best to learn and not feel so sheepish when I use it.
I stopped into my favorite Taco Shop (I actually got a burrito) determined not to speak any English. I walked up to the counter ordered "un burrito de asada. Con todo, por favor." The girl taking the orders thought nothing of the order, however I felt confident about my understanding of the language. She asked me a question, and I didn't understand what she said. I caught one word: bebidas.
I stood there for a quick second, then responded: Oh, quiero una horchata tambien.
"Para aqui or llevar?" she asked. I know the answer to this one!
"Para llevar," I said, pointing towards the door. She smiled and handed the order to the cook. I was home free!
Granted, I simply got food. It's not like I translated a large text into Spanish. But little victories like those make me feel good about speaking another language. There is no doubt: if I follow any kind of priestly vocation, I will have to learn Spanish. Until I sit in a classroom again, I'll do my best to learn in the real world.
As I walked out of the Taco Shop, another Mexican held the door for me. I thanked him, in Spanish, still feeling pretty good about myself. I think the guy saw the smile on my face, and said something funny to me, but because I couldn't understand, I have no clue what he said.
The best I could do was smile a little wider and let out a chuckle.
So much more to learn. =)