I was once ashamed of my mother. I was mortified by the woman who gave me life and love. It was never how she treated me, how she acted, or how she looked. What always made me cringe was the unsettling noise that escaped her mouth as she tried to speak English.
As a child of an immigrant, I grew up part daughter and part translator as my mother tried to adapt the language necessary to survive in the United States. “Be patient with me,” she would always tell me, but I simply could not.
Over the years my mother found ways to communicate with the outside world without my assistance. As I grew older, I found myself more infuriated with her and her continued inability to speak proper English. I would leave the room whenever she received a call because I could not help but pity the person on the line trying to make sense of what my mother was saying. Eventually, people on the phone stopped asking for my mother and requested me to speak for her instead.
What amazed me the most about the situation was the distinct contrast between her English and Spanish. When she spoke to me in Spanish, every sentence was a piece of poetry. My mother had a way of captivating anyone around and intriguing them to come to her whenever she spoke her native tongue.
This didn’t soothe me, but instead angered me further. I couldn’t see the logic in her being able to speak another language so perfectly, when the language in which she truly needed to function was beyond her.
My attitude changed when I went to visit my family in our home country of Argentina. I expected to struggle, but I felt that I knew enough Spanish to converse without a problem. I was soon proven wrong as all the conversations quickly overwhelmed me.
Everyone spoke too fast, unlike the way my mom spoke Spanish to me at home. Even my family I was visiting had to dramatically change their way of speaking to accommodate me. They tried not to show it, but I could see the strain that I was putting on them as they tried to find a way of communicating. The trip really turned the tables on me and for two weeks I experienced what my mother went through every day.
Now my mother shines in a new light. I applaud her when she challenges words she doesn’t usually use. I help her in learning how proper sentence structures should sound. My mother struggles with her less than perfect English still, but she keeps her head high and doesn’t let that stop her from expressing her thoughts.
She teaches me by example that language is important in life and in how a person presents to society. What is more important is the ability to acknowledge and accept the limitations of others in order to help them grow.