Category Archives: writing
I’m in a waiting room surrounded by quiet gringos. All of us do our best to spread out, to give each other as much personal space as possible. We stare at the TV in the uppermost corner of the room, flip through magazines, or play with our cellphones. We don’t talk.
The automatic doors whoosh open and a Latino family comes in. A father, a mother, two young daughters. They are speaking at a normal indoor volume, but not in the hushed tones of people who don’t want to be overheard. They’re speaking Spanish. They glance around the room, even making eye contact with me, before continuing on, unaware that I understand every word of what they’re saying.
I hold my magazine a little higher to hide my smile.
After signing-in with the receptionist, the husband and wife discuss who will go back to see the doctor with the youngest daughter and who will wait in the waiting room with the older daughter. The wife seems to be a good ten years younger than the husband. She rakes her fingers through her hair while snapping her gum. She adjusts her big sunglasses on top of her head and checks each ear to see that her jewelry is still there. She plays with her cellphone, twists the shiny ring on her finger, and then pulls out a makeup bag from her purse – she ignores the children. The husband, a tall, handsome man with wide shoulders and salt-and-pepper hair, tends to their daughters. The little girls ask their father for a snack and it is he who opens the diaper bag and gives them one while his wife, with her legs crossed just-so, touches up her nail polish.
The family’s surname is called. The father stands, hefts the little girl into his arms, and walks dutifully through the door that the nurse holds open. The wife blows on her nails and looks bored.
The older daughter sits across the row from her mother. She holds a plastic toy horse in her hands. The mane and tail are hopelessly tangled. The little girl puts her arms down at her sides – opens her hand and drops the toy horse onto the linoleum floor. Some in the waiting room look up to see what caused the clatter and then look away. The mother puts her makeup bag back into her purse and then pulls her cellphone from the pocket of her tight white jeans with careful fingers, so as not to ruin the fresh polish.
The little girl lets her whole body go limp, and slides from the chair to the floor, her dress getting caught up on the seat and showing her underwear. I smile at her. She stares at me, hard, neither smiling or frowning. Her eyes are a warm fiery brown, and her black curls are as hopelessly tangled as the mane of her toy horse.
She turns to her mother.
“Mamá, yo quiero un juguito,” she says. The mother says nothing in response to her request for juice.
“Mamá, yo quiero un juguito,” she repeats, this time standing and patting the diaper bag which held the snack her father had gotten her earlier.
“No,” the mother answers, without explanation.
“Porqué no, Mamá? Tengo sed. Quiero un juguito de la bolsa, Aquí traemos—”
“No,” the mother answers again, as she types a text into her cellphone and shakes her leg impatiently.
The little girl stomps her foot, crosses her arms over her chest and then slides back down to the floor.
She mumbles in Spanish that she wants her father to come back because he would give her a juice.
The mother tells her to be quiet.
The girl is quiet… but only for a moment. She looks around the room, at all the gringo faces. In accented but very clear English she tells her mother, “I hate you! … and you’re ugly!”
The gringo faces look up at the little girl and her mother, surprised, amused. The mother mumbles in Spanish – calls her “malcriada.”
The little girl smiles in satisfaction, picks up her toy horse, and tries to work her fingers through the tangles in its hair.
Image source: Melissa Venable
(Today is Spanish Friday so the following post is en español. Don’t speak Spanish? No problema! Just scroll down to the English translation below.)
Me cuesta mucho buscar las palabras por explicar cómo me siento yo ahorita – (¡aún en inglés!) … Es casi el mismo sentido que uno siente cuándo está enamorado. No puedo pensar en nada salvo los Billboard Latin Music Awards. No tengo nada de hambre, no tengo sueño – sólo tengo mis ensueños de caminar en la carpeta roja con un vestidito super lindo, la playa que me recuerda mucho, la música, mis amigas, y estar rodeada de hispanohablantes y la cultura Latina – Miami y este evento son nada menos que el paraíso!
¿Y sabes qué? Espinoza Paz está nominado en varias categorías! Ay mi madre! Sí está mi Espinoza, y sí tengo el chance de conocerlo cara a cara – me muero! (Pero me muero feliz!)
La unica cosa es que quiero llevar Carlos conmigo. Él tiene muchos años trabajando fuerte sin irse en vacaciónes y lo merece mucho. Carlos no conoce Miami y ya sé que va a enamorar de la ciudad como yo lo hice el año pasado. Entonces, estoy buscando más trabajo, (escribiendo), y Carlos buscando trabajo en cortar grama o cualquier cosa que puede encontrar fuera de su trabajo regular, para que ahorramos un poco extra por comprar el boleto que necesita.
Así que, a trabajar voy, mis amigos! … Y Miami, mi amor, regresaré muy pronto!
Te dejo con un video: Armada Latina – Cypress Hill featuring Pitbull and Marc Anthony.
Pitbull está tan lindo y chistoso en este video. Chécalo!
It’s difficult for me to find the words to explain how I feel right now – (even in English!) … It’s almost the same feeling one feels when they’re in love. I can’t think of anything except the Billboard Latin Music Awards. I’m not hungry, I’m not tired – I just have my daydreams about walking on the red carpet dressed in a super cute gown, the beautiful beach I often think of, the music, my friends, and being surrounded by Spanish speakers and the Latin culture – Miami and this event are nothing less than paradise!
And guess what? Espinoza Paz is nominated in various categories! If my Espinoza is there, and if I have the chance to meet him face-to-face – I will die! (But I’ll die happy!)
The only thing is that I want to bring Carlos with me. He has spent a lot of years working hard without going on a single vacation and he really deserves it. Carlos has never been to Miami and I know he’ll fall in love with the city like I did last year. So, I’m looking for more work, (writing), and Carlos is looking for more work, cutting grass or whatever he can find outside his regular work, so we can save a little extra that we need to buy his ticket.
So then, back to work I go, my friends! … And Miami, my love, I’m coming back real soon!
I leave you with a video: Armada Latina – Cypress Hill featuring Pitbull and Marc Anthony.
Pitbull is so cute and funny in this video. Check it out!
I don’t know what makes me happier – the fact that my 9 year old is writing stories, or the fact that they contain a little Latin sabor.
At school they’ve been practicing for a writing assessment, and my son brought home some of his stories.
I may be biased, but I think he shows promise. I gave him a hug and told him I loved his stories.
“Writing must be in the blood!” I said proudly. Carlos smacked his forehead.
“I guess we’ll have to build an addition onto the house so he can live with us forever then,” he said.
Anyway, here is his entire story transcribed. I corrected spelling and some punctuation but everything else is as he wrote it.
A Magical Trip To Mexico
by J. López (9 years old)
I was wanting to go to Mexico with my family. I snapped my fingers and I was there. I decided we should make a party. My family came along. We had a lot of snacks. The snacks were salsa, chips and much more. We even had a confetti machine.
The music was very good. Now it’s time to hit the piñata. The piñata was a donkey and was purple, green and red. Everyone hit the piñata – nothing came out. Now it was my turn. I hit the piñata – Whack! Whack! The donkey broke in half. All the sweets fell on the ground. There were red, blue, yellow, and green candy. I put so many in my pockets that I thought it might explode.
They had big hats. They were colorful. Some were black – I tried them on – way too big. I tried the colorful ones – too small. Then I saw a black and white hat that looked like a mariachi hat. I tried it on – just right. Then I went to the costume room. Next I looked for a suit that would match my hat. I saw a suit that was just right. I tried it – it was great.
When I came out of the dressing room I saw a mariachi band on the stage, so I went back to the costume room. I saw a chest full of instruments. I saw a blue guitar. It looked sapphire blue. I took it. I went back onto the stage and played with them. Then I tripped and I was back in my room. In my pocket I found a piece of confetti. I wondered if I really went to Mexico or if it was a dream.
(English translation in italics below!)
Usualmente cuándo viene mi suegra de El Salvador, me trae recuerdos, (ya tú sabes!) Los recuerdos son típicos de El Salvador, y a veces, predecibles – pero esta vez que regreso mi suegra, me trajo una sorpresa. El regalo que me trajo ella no sólo es lo más chévere regalo que he recibido de El Salvador, pero es uno de los regalos más chivo que he recibido en todo mi vida!
Usually when my mother-in-law comes from El Salvador, she brings me souvenirs, (you already know that!) The souvenirs are typical of El Salvador and sometimes predictable – but this time when my mother-in-law returned, she brought me a surprise. The gift she brought me is not only the most awesome gift I’ve received from El Salvador, but one of the coolest gifts I’ve received ever!
¿Puedes adivinar lo que está adentro de la caja?
Can you guess what’s inside the case?
Es una máquina de escribir! A veces siento que mi suegra no entiende exactamente que hago aquí en la computadora escribiendo todo el día – que ella piensa que estoy muy floja, pero tal vez me respeta en su manera.
It’s a typewriter! Sometimes I feel that my mother-in-law doesn’t understand exactly what I do on the computer writing all day – that she thinks I’m really lazy, but maybe she respects me in her way.
Mi hijito estaba más fascinado que yo. Me dijo, “Esto es lo qué usaban cuándo no habian computadoras?”
My youngest son was even more fascinated than I was. He said, “Is this what they used before computers?”
Ay! Pero qué lindo! Tiene la “ñ”!
Oh my gosh! How cute is that? It has the “ñ”!
Quién dijo que las máquinas de escribir son obsoletas? No puedo imaginar usandola por escribir un manuscrito, pero quizás puedo usarla por blogear?
Who said typewriters are obsolete? I can’t imagine using it to write a manuscript, but perhaps I can still use it to blog?
Last night a man Suegra knows showed up on our doorstep. His name is Ángel. He entered the house shyly, apologizing for disturbing us, and only sat down in the living room at our insistence. “I’m not here to stay,” he said, “I only have something I’d like you to bring with you back to El Salvador, to deliver to my family,” he said to Suegra.
So as not to be rude, I sat down, too. I was only being polite, was anxious for him to leave so I could get back to the kitchen where a pot of Sopa de Res simmered. Suegra and Ángel began to talk though and within minutes I forgot about the soup, becoming completely lost in his story. He stayed for over an hour, and during that time I came close tears. His story is not unique, which makes it sadder still. If you don’t have the opportunity to meet someone like Ángel, allow me to introduce you. The following was inspired by him.
deserving of the name,
works another day in the factory
the acrid chemicals burn his lungs
the scent of hot melted plastic
made into fancy bathtubs for rich people.
He sends money to his family in El Salvador,
even as he coughs up blood.
He finds work in a kitchen instead,
worries the bathtub factory has already taken years off his life,
(“pero ójala que no” and “Primero a Dios” he says)
At the restaurant, he washes dishes in hot soapy water,
and talks like a Mexican,
“No por vergüenza,” he says, “Pero, sólo que los Mexicanos no me joden, entiendes?”
And with his raw red hands,
he sends money to his family in El Salvador,
He works and sleeps, doesn’t have a girlfriend like some men he knows.
“I’m not like that,” he says, showing us a photo of his family.
With the money he sends to El Salvador,
a nice house has been built, in a neighborhood with no pandilleros,
a house where his children are growing up without him,
and his wife sleeps alone, (he hopes.)
Sometimes in the middle of the night
he remembers his journey through the desert years ago,
the days were hot-hot,
and the nights cold-cold,
but nothing is colder than this quiet apartment in the United States,
just a place to sleep before another day of work,
so he can send money to his family in El Salvador.
September is a special month to me. It’s the month I started this blog last year, and though my husband and I met each other at the end of August all those years ago, September is when we became novios. And so today has me thinking about the early days, when we were new to each other, and I was still discovering all the little things about him that endeared him to me…
I first noticed my husband’s escritura, (handwriting) within minutes of meeting him. He gave me his name and phone number, and instead of the chicken-scratch I was used to seeing from American boys, I held in my hands something not only completely readable, but strangely intriguing.
As novios, I looked forward to his love letters, not just for the words themselves, but the way in which they had been written – the form of each individual letter. Everything about him reminded me of how different we were, from our inability to communicate at times, (I read his love letters with an English-Spanish dictionary by my side), to something as simple as the way we write the letter “e”.
They say “love is blind”, and while I agree with the sentiment, it isn’t literally true. We saw our differences, and were fascinated by them.
Many handwriting experts claim you can’t tell a person’s ethnicity or nationality by their handwriting, but again, I say this isn’t true. (Link is to a PDF titled: “Spanish Handwriting And Spelling” – a document meant for non-native Spanish speakers deciphering Spanish documents to extract information. The fact that such a document exists proves that there are differences!)
Maybe it isn’t fool proof, but I’m able to pick out the handwriting of native born Salvadorans from that of U.S. born Americans. While I haven’t seen handwriting samples from all Latin American countries, everybody in my husband’s family – his mother, his sister, his brother, his cousins and uncles – even completely unrelated Salvadorans I’ve met, all have similarities in their handwriting. I can’t tell you if it’s a uniquely Salvadoran handwriting or a Spanish-speaking/Latin American way of writing, but it is different – and noticing a difference is not a bad thing.
In this politically correct world we’re admonished to look for the similarities, but I say go ahead and look for the differences, and celebrate them, because they’re beautiful.
My niños are going back to school. Now it will just be me and Suegra home alone all day. I’ll miss the kids, but I’m happy that I’ll have more time to write uninterrupted – (though with Suegra still here for another month, I shouldn’t celebrate too early.)
Yet, there is something about the smell of school supplies and the chill in the morning air that makes me not just ready for change, but desiring of it, maybe just as much so as the leaves on a maple tree. This year has been no different and so it came to be that yesterday I asked my husband to buy me a desk. I decided I needed a more solid place to call my own, something more substantial than the solitary papsan chair in the corner of the room.
I intend to write – not think about writing. Write more than blog. Write and repress the urge to check Twitter, the news, and my E-mail box, in an endless cycle. I will write because one of these days, tomorrow, or 70 years from now, will be my last, and I will wish I had written more.
And so tomorrow, while the niños are at their desks at school, I will be at mine.
La niña sits
snuggled close to her father
A stranger’s smile
sends her burying her face
into his cotton dress shirt
which smells of sunshine
is set on the table
hot! – hot!
(caliente y picante both)
oily circles float on the surface
looking like the puddles at a carwash that Papi says not to touch,
but this, he says,
Eat. Coma. Andalé pues,
and puts a warm tortilla into her hand.
- Tracy López
(If un-ladylike language upsets you, read no further…and honestly, maybe you’ll want to avoid my blog altogether since you never know when I might let one slip out.)
“P” is for “pissed off”
“P” is for “peleando”
“P” is for “pinche”
In “real life”, I don’t usually cuss in polite company but as a writer, I love words, and that includes the dirty ones.
Latin America has a colorful rainbow of cusses to choose from, words as diverse as the countries themselves. When I first started learning Spanish and picked up a book subtitled “the words your teacher won’t teach you”, I was like a kid in a candy store, picking and choosing the words I liked best and committing them to memory. I noticed that most of the words I chose had a (mx) symbol next to them, signifying that the word was of Mexican origin. Ah, Mexican vulgarisms! They were by far my favorites.
And so it came to be that “pinche” became my word of choice. I love the way it looks, the way it sounds, the way native speakers linger on the first syllable, and the creative stream of unpredictable language that follows. It looks so cute and harmless to native English-speaking eyes, a false cognate for “pinch”. I’ve heard that in Spain the word simply refers to a boy who works in the kitchen, and in other Latin American countries it can mean various other things which are equally mild. Really, there’s no way to know if someone will be offended by it, whether they be Mexican or not, but that doesn’t stop me from using it once in awhile. (Something I’ve discovered my husband fails to appreciate.)
The other day el macho and I got into an argument, which isn’t really news in itself. The thing is, our arguments have a new dimension to them now that we have text messaging on our phones. This allows me to not answer his calls but continue fighting through my preferred method – writing. Está chévere, no? Well, my husband doesn’t think so.
When we were finally face-to-face once again he said to me, “Stop texting me when we fight… And stop using the word pinche!”
“Hey, you can’t tell me what words to use. I’ll use pinche if I want to.”
“I hate that word. We’re not Mexican.”
“I’m not Salvadoran either, what’s your point?”
“Pinche is a Mexican word.”
“Y qué? I don’t tell you how to speak English. You can say ‘bloody hell’ like Harry Potter for all I care.”
In the end, I knew that this conversation simply couldn’t have a happy ending, and so I just walked away muttering, “… pinche tonterías…”
I am usually a nice person but lately that doesn’t come naturally to me. I find myself getting frustrated and angry too easily. The worst part is that I know that the things that are upsetting me are cositas – little things. I feel like my tolerance and patience levels have dropped like the out-going tide before a tsunami. I’m not quisquillosa, yet lately if anyone so much as breaths the wrong way near me, I feel like I’m going to lose my mind.
I think the problem is that I’m introverted, and introverted people require time alone to recharge. With Suegra living with us, plus the niños home for the summer, I never get that. It exhausts me to never be able to complete a thought without the kids barging in and asking me for a snack while a telenovela blasts from the television in the next room.
Last night I found myself kicking a soccer ball up against the wall in the bedroom repeatedly for a solid 15 minutes in order to compose myself. This has become one of my coping mechanisms. My husband used to chide me as if I were a niña playing ball in the house. He used to say I’d damage the walls. Now he leaves me alone because a damaged wall is better than the alternative.
Today even kicking the soccer ball didn’t make me feel better and when my husband came home, I explained to him how I was feeling… He listened until I was finished and then after a minute, he offered to buy me ice cream.
I can see why he thought ice cream was the solution. Ice cream has been the solution in the past and why stray from a tactic that works? But I had to explain to him why ice cream wouldn’t fix this. Of course, my calm, rational explanation came out more like, “I don’t want ice cream! I want to be alone!”, followed by sobbing.
My husband handed over the car keys and told me to go.
I got into the car and started to drive, sin rumbo y sin dirección. I listened to bachata music and just enjoyed the luxury of uninterrupted thought. Eventually I stopped in a parking lot, pulled out the moleskine journal a friend gave me earlier this year and began to write.
So, today I finally got that pedacito of solitude I needed, but I go to bed knowing that mañana is another day and I won’t always get to escape to a deserted parking lot. Tomorrow I may just have to settle for ice cream, but I’m prepared to demand sprinkles.
“Cómo volver a ser feliz…
Cuando este día se parece al fin del mundo?
Cómo volver a ser feliz…
Si tu partida me ha tirado a lo profundo?
Solo tú sabes mi amor….
Cómo volver a ser feliz…
Más que hablar
Solo intento despertar algún motivo en tu conciencia
Solo quiero en recompensa encontrar lo que tú eras…
-Luis Enrique/Cómo Volver a Ser Feliz