My Spanish has gotten a lot better since I’ve been back in Texas. I never lost the ability to understand, but I was having a hard time communicating everything I wanted to say at first. I used to speak fairly fluently when I was younger, so it was frustrating to feel so clumsy when speaking. When I first came back, I was talking to a lady and she told me that her mother got attacked by bees. I could understand everything she was saying, that her mother (who lives back in her home country) was going out from a beach house towards the sea and went into a little cabana and disturbed a hive and suddenly the bees swarmed her and there was a pool nearby so she jumped in the pool and the bees kept on attacking her when she would come up for air. Her poor mother was hospitalized and kept developing bumps on her skin for weeks after the attack because the bee venom was coming out of her system through her skin. Her mother is elderly and it was a very traumatic experience for her to say the least. Anyhow, so the lady is telling me this, and I am listening and stunned by the terrible story, but I was unable to articulate anything appropriate to say back to her. Obviously it was a sensitive situation and all I could muster was “Oh, that’s terrible.” “Oh, and how is she now?” I talked to this other friend and told her that while the lady was telling me the story, I was just shaking my head up and down and couldn’t think of anything to say. My friend told me that when she came to the US she noticed that when English speakers had conversations with her, they always interjected to show that they were listening and following along. She says that in Mexico people don’t interrupt as much. I was like, okay, if that is the case, then that’s good for me so that I can think of something useful to say if someone is telling me something sensitive about a problem or ill health or whatever. Anyway, I still make a lot of mistakes when I speak, but I have a very good (Mexican!) accent and I feel a lot more comfortable communicating now. Recently, a neighbor was telling me that she had been married three times and that people were always shocked by that, but it wasn’t her fault. Her first husband turned out to be gay. Oh, I had A LOT to say about that situation! Women always suffer so much! I feel sorry for him, too because he probably didn’t want to acknowledge his feelings or didn’t understand them or just wanted to conform to avoid prejudice, but your life was ruined due to all of this. I just blabbed on en español like a motormouth. Anyway, her second husband had some emotional problems and became physically abusive, so she left him. But she has been married to #3 for nearly a decade and he is a great guy. So good for her.
Where I live, Spanish is very useful. As a teen, when I worked in food shops, customers would just start out speaking in Spanish sometimes, never asking if I could understand or not. Now, even with hijab on, people sometimes still start out in Spanish with me or comfortably switch to Spanish with me without asking about my hijab or acting like it is weird if I switch into Spanish (I only switch if I notice that their English is far worse than my Spanish, just to facilitate ease in the communication). Once, in the Walmart, I asked an employee where the shampoo was. She looked at me and I could see her eyes on my hijab, but she just said to me in Spanish “Over there near to the pharmacy.” Sometimes, I can understand people who are talking about me in Spanish. Once these two ladies were standing near to me and said that I looked like a nun and started laughing. At one of the taco trucks near to my house, the owner has called me Mother Superior because of my headscarf, ribbing me in that Mexican Uncle sort of teasing way.
Sometimes people do ask about my origins and my religion. “No, I am not Mexican, I am Anglo. I just speak Spanish cuz I grew up here, I did study it in high school also. Why am I wearing this? Oh, because I am a Muslim and it is in our faith. No, my husband isn’t Arab, he is Pakistani. No, well, I converted out of conviction, not for my husband. I was a Muslim before I met my husband.” That’s how it goes. I have had a lot of hispanohablantes ask me much more sophisticated questions about my faith than the English speaking strangers do, for whatever reason. Mostly other Anglos stick to hijab questions. I have tried to analyze why that might be, but haven’t come to any conclusion.
In addition to talking to people, I have been watching Spanish language TV (A guilty pleasure is Caso Cerrado) and also reading Spanish language magazines which I pick up in the check out aisle at the grocery store. I usually go for People En Español, but once I got this cheap tabloid magazine and in the back of it there were ads for psychics and healers and you will never guess what I saw. Among the pictures of Indigenous or Afro-Latino curanderos, there were ads that contained pictures of Sultan Qaboos (the ruler of Oman) and Madhuri Dixit (famous Indian actress). Since they look exotic, Gypsy, Eastern, or whatever, someone had just probably taken them from the internet and put them in their cheesy ads!
Anyway, it is good to be home and to slip back into the Texan life with our diverse population and bilingual English/Spanish atmosphere.