New Feature: Diabolina Does Deep Thoughts
Ugh. You guys are a blessing for indulging/encouraging me. Thank you!
For those of you who don't dig this feature, no worries, just skip it.
I'll be back to posting about shoes and purses soon enough.
Just wanted to share two very personal pieces that fit well
with my emotional Mamma Mia of a Saturday.
Just Another English Major
Spanish is my first language. I learned to read and write it when I was 3.
I am Guatemalan but speak Spanish with a Cuban accent. This drives my mother's family in Guatemala nuts. But I grew up around a very vocal Cuban family. They were just this big extended family who lived in the building my grandmother lived in. Two of them became my godparents and so I sound like them. Just like that.
I grew up in L.A. Displaced. Raised by two immigrant women who were just making their way, befriending strangers and turning them into family, navigating a new world, shaping their American dream.
I didn't grow up in Guatemala. I didn't grow up with a family that was mine. That drives me nuts. So I guess we are even. My family and me.
I learned english in a day. My mom says I went to my bilingual kindergarten one day and came back speaking english. Just like that. Came home chattering like a little parrot in english.
And she cried and cried and cried.
I don't speak english with an accent. Never have. And that is why I can pass. Why I can be white/American/whatever when it behooves me, when it's easier, when it is more seemly. People see what they want to see and I am too tired. Too tired to educate anyone.
When I was little, my mom would ask me to speak english to her. To help her with her accent. She would make me lie down to say certain words to see my mouth better, from a better angle. Isn't that funny? Picture this grown beautiful brilliant woman who left everything behind – her homeland, her culture, her education, her family, her love and her language. For me. She did it for me. And somehow I also taught her how to do it – how to leave it all behind and become an American. Or at least pass for one.
I was five. And she was 35. And I taught her. Cosas de la vida.
As a child, I resisted speaking to her in english. Still do. It was probably selfish of me. But it just didn't feel right. It felt disingenuous.
Her and me. We exist in Spanish. Spanish is beautiful and lyrical and magical in ways English isn't. Just like her and me. We make sense in Spanish. I don't know much but I know that.
Speaking to her, the most important person that ever was or ever will be, in English feels like a lie. And it's ironic because I exist in english now,30 years later, almost exclusively. My writing, my ability to communicate, my gift, it is now primarily an english thing.
But I dream mostly in Spanish. Isn't that odd? All the characters in my life suddenly speak Spanish in my dreams. It has never struck me as strange because it is just my life but it is.
It is weird and wonderful and just another thing to share with people to make them smile and cry and feel and breathe. Because they exist on a planet with a bizillion and one stories. None of them quite the same.
In the middle of a broken and overwhelming world, my little story might make them see themselves and that person they pass on the street a little differently.
It's weird to write it. To even look at it after I've written it. It's mystifying how two words can be so loaded and yet so meaningless for me. How they can be a part of me and not at all. That they define me and yet don't.
That must sound so strange to you. I guess most people write their fathers' names all the time - in birthday cards or casual emails or important documents.
Not me. I've only writtten it a couple of times. I certainly can't remember the last time. More often than not, I'd scrawl n/a.
A father's not applicable for me.
I've been told I look like him. The first time I really remember was when I was almost 17. I was in Guatemala for the first time, in this beautiful house, a house belonging to my mother's great aunt. And this exquisite lady of about 75, Lottie, looked at me. Really stared at me when I walked in. And blanched just a little, as if she'd seen a ghost. And I guess she had because she murmured to my mother, "My god, she looks just like him."
I choked back tears and almost 17 years of questions and just smiled politely like good girls do. I was afraid of upsetting my mother, making her uncomfortable. So I pretended I didn't hear or understand her meaning. Like so many other times. Times when even as a child, I could see in my mother's eyes that when she looked at me she wasn't looking at me. She was looking at him.
I always try to guess what he looked like by subtracting the features I have that belong to my mom. Like I have her eyes but I don't. I mean our eyes dance in the same mischievious way when we joke and flash in the same frightening way when we're angry. But the shape, the shape of my eyes is his. It is a bit more almond than her beautifully, perfectly round eyes.
I looked really Asian when I was little and wondered often if he was Asian. That maybe my mom had had an interracial relationship and was hiding it. I find that so funny now but I guess it's also a little sad, isn't it? Yes, to not know and guess as a child is a little sad. Maybe even more than a little.
I have my Mom's thin lips, the thin lips that all her beautiful aunts had. But I think I have his teeth - isn't that funny? My mom doesn't have chompers like mine. We always laugh about it.
I definitely have his nose. Or maybe not. Maybe my prominent nose skipped a generation and I got it from my maternal grandmother.
I definitely have my mother's forehead and I have her cheeks, the source of my eternal chipmunk cuteness but also my most hated feature.
I have the same smattering of birthmarks on my neck as her. It's like proof that I am hers and she is mine. I find that heartbreakingly beautiful.
The most obvious thing that comes from him is my height. I knew that at 10 when I was already taller than my mom and grandmother. She told me he was tall when I was very little. Actually I can't remember a time when I didn't know that. My tallness always connected me to him. Proof that I was his and he was mine. I find that heartbreakingly beautiful too.
I saw a picture of him once - maybe when I was 7. I knew that along with all her grown up papers, my mother kept a folder filled with, well, him. I waited for a time when she was out and I climbed on a chair and dug it out. That folder. That folder full of my father. I can't believe I was so little and knew about it and managed to dig it out without her seeing.
In the folder were newspaper clippings of articles he'd written. And letters to her. And a picture. I remember focusing on the picture. Holding it in my little hand like it was gold. It was a small wallet size black and white shot of a regal looking man in glasses.
I can close my eyes and make out the edges of his face. But I can't see the features. That kills me. And it kills me that I can't ask her to see it. More than 20 years later. I just can't. I still feel like that little girl.
So all I can do is close my eyes and travel back to that moment. But I just don't know if the man staring back at me looks like me. If he looks like he belongs to me and I to him. I don't know that. I don't know if I ever will.
Isn't that funny? And more than a little sad.