Friday, March 16, 2007

El Otro/ El Mismo...

I am standing in line at the college cafeteria waiting to get a meal before my Biology class. All of the ladies who serve from the other side of the counter are Latin and speak little English. I assume they are Mexican because I know that one of them is from Puebla and the other from Guerrero, and the one with the green eyes could have been born in Acapulco. But not the Acapulco you know, not the one with the beaches for tourists, I’m talking about the other one; the real one. They know me because I eat there often, and we usually engage in small talk. But it is hard to understand each other: my Argentine Spanish sounds too Italian and too fast to them, and even when I try to slow down my speech and give it more music and a lower tone they will ask me to repeat what I said. We Argentines, specially the ones from Buenos Ayres, can roll our R’s like if it where the last thing we will ever do in our life, and we pronounce the Y’s very differently from Central Americans. This is a reason why many central Americans have, friendlily, mocked at my accent, but we can still communicate between each other.

As I stand in line, I am separated from them by a counter that divides our roles, and while they are here to work, I am here to study. The counter also separates our privileges: while they get payed four dollars an hour "under the table," I sit in class. Going further, this can also translate into: while I am able to project a future and to dream a little, they see this job as their only choice of a future.
Today it was slower than usual, and when my turn arrived, one of the ladies asked me, in spanish, what was I studying. I always hesitate to answer whenever people ask me this, because I used to be a Philosophy major in my country, back in the days when I believed social change was possible. Shamefully, part of me has given up on this ideal, and now I want to be a writer and I want to teach Spanish Literature. I also want to be able to talk to other people, so that I can know about them. I tell her that I am trying to be a teacher, and she smiles and gives me an extra scoop of grilled vegetables. I wonder what she would have done if I had answered "I'm majoring in Business!"

And at the same time, I only get to ask her about her day, or about the weather. I cannot go into details about the reason why she is here, or about the family she has left behind when crossing the border, or if she enjoys serving meals to spoiled teenagers all day long, or if she thinks less of me because I live amongst Americans. I am on the other side of the counter, and she probably assumes that I do not understand anything. But I do, even though I am not the girl who was working illegally at that bagel store anymore, three years ago in Charlotte. Even though I am not that girl who used to laugh in Spanish with her co-workers from Peru and Ecuador. Even though I am not the girl who waited for the bus in the snow to get to places and who stayed in the public library at two PM, reading novels near the tables in where the homeless men took naps. Even though I am not the girl who mispronounced every single word she uttered in English and who could not afford college, I still understand. Something happened on the course of these last years; the loss of my innocence surrendered to what is commonly called " adaptation."

It’s been almost three years now, since my last trip to Argentina, and the distance and the longing have stopped hurting. This could mean that I am slowly starting to make myself feel at home in a new place, or it could also mean that I have learnt how to numb myself from melancholy. Maybe, it means that I am only leaving things behind; that I have started building a big bubble of clear glass around me, and that I am forgetting what is real and what isn’t. This is why I just had to sit down for a minute to write this entry. Because this scratching down on paper; this endless typing is my tent, and it is a constant battle against fallacies and against forgetfulness.

Real is what lies on the other side of this bubble, on the other side of the border, on the other side of the water. Real, today, was what I found on the other side of the counter.

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