Mom, Books, and the Spanish That's Been Lost to the Wind


I'm not ready for Mom to give me back my childhood mementos.

It started a couple of years ago. Inside a gift bag, one with the braided cord handles, was my newborn blanket. Then she gave me the rebozo-shawl that she'd used to carry me as a newborn. Out of an envelope, tumbled the 1969 pamphlets, wallet calendar, and infant care paraphernalia the Mexico City doctor sent her home with.

She's fine. She's not terminally ill. I've heard her lifelong fatalist streak get stronger and stronger in recent years. She says these things belong to me and she wants to make sure I have them when she's not around.

Mother's day made me think about these things. So did the Spanish language book fair at the L.A. Convention Center this weekend. In recent years I've had a tormented relationship with speaking Spanish and that's affected my relationship with Mom. As a kid I always admired how well she spoke Spanish when I'd sit next to her at the bank or some government office.

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For the longest time, from childhood to adolescence, speaking Spanish was about proving something. About proving to my relatives in Mexico and Guanajuato when we visited during summers that I'd maintained the language, culture, and identity. It was to prove that I was Mexican. It was to prove my mother's success raising me as a single mother away from her country and her family. Speaking Spanish was rarely about the pleasure of the language, the ideas, the debates. I'd find that out later on my own.

At this stage in my life I don't feel I have to prove those things. So what do I do with Spanish? I feel it withering on the vine. The Salvadoran American poet William Archila describes going back to El Salvador and feeling like his tongue was broken because of his inability to speak Spanish like he used to.

I use it here and there in my reporting, I've read a lot for pleasure. As a matter of fact, I just finished reading a book by Juan Jose Millas that was such a pleasure to read because the sentences in Spanish unlocked dendrites long ago cul de sacked because I'm longer around my Spanish speaking cousins and aunts, and because I don't go to Tijuana or Mexico City.

Earlier this year Mom gave me my 1970s San Diego elementary school class pictures in their original manila envelopes. She also gave me my notebooks from first grade in Tijuana, the only year of schooling I'd do in Mexico.

The problem is we didn't talk about it. There was no context. We should have reminisced a bit. Too much time has passed between the last time I saw these artifacts of my childhood and now. Mother's Day reminded me that the time is now to sit down with her and talk about all these things, hear the stories, thank her for speaking to me in Spanish, and tell her I'm working to remember many of the words she taught me.

Poet and KPCC Reporter Adolfo Guzman-Lopez writes his column Movie Miento every week on KCET's SoCal Focus blog. It is a poetic exploration of Los Angeles history, Latino culture and the overall sense of place, darting across LA's physical and psychic borders.

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