Language + Diversity = Comfort

Today on my train ride into the city, I couldn’t help but overhear the woman behind me reading out loud. She had an accent that made it obvious English was not her native tongue and I almost wanted to be annoyed that I couldn’t concentrate on my school work. Suddenly I found that I was overcome with a smile and thought it was rather humorous that as she practiced reading in a language she probably did not know all that well, I myself was struggling to understand the Spanish article I was reading for class.

This article, entitled, “Los pasos perdidos: El Tiempo y el espacio en la dimension de lo real-maravilloso” (the lost steps: time and space in the dimension of the marvelous real) by Alexis Marquez Rodriguez discuses how, ironically, Cuban author Alejo Carpentier had to deal with his own linguistic identity crisis when exiled in Paris. Carpentier had to decide between writing (and speaking) in either French or Spanish. For the author, the decision was the following: that which he could make a living off of would be written in English, but what anything remotely creative and suyo would be written in Spanish.

Being bilingual myself, I can comprehend completely the dilemma Carpentier found himself in. Growing up I was constantly making a conscious decision to either speak Spanish or English, depending on the situation. It was a constant navigation through my own linguistic identity. At home, I’d identity myself as a Spanish-speaker, but while at school or in any public sphere I was an English speaker. Playing hopscotch between both languages became a challenge I dreaded having to confront.

When I first moved to Boston to continue my studies in Spanish Literature, I soon realized the dance between English and Spanish was not nearing an end. Living in a suburb in the south shore, I constantly go from a Spanish speaker in the city to only an English speaker at home. As a result, one of my favorite aspects of being in the city is the diversity I rarely see out in the suburbs. There’s such a rich mixture of culture, languages and people from all walks of life that I find captivating. It is the moment I arrive in the city, that I am filled with a sense of possibility and opportunity that gives me a sense of optimism.

5 Comments so far

  1. evan (unregistered) on February 13th, 2007 @ 9:08 am

    ‘oorah! First post! That’s one of the great things about cities: stand in one place for X amount of time, then wait and count up the different languages y’hear.

    (And in another bit of Kevin Baconness, I’m reading The Kingdom of the World for class, too.)

  2. Brenda (unregistered) on February 13th, 2007 @ 9:40 am

    Ooh! Nice. I haven’t actually read that book, but how do you like it?? I first read Carpentier a few years back for an undergrad class and immediately fell in love with his style; it’s so ingenious.

  3. evan (unregistered) on February 14th, 2007 @ 9:09 pm

    Nice, tense, and compact, I’d say. Lots of fun.

  4. cindylu (unregistered) on February 21st, 2007 @ 1:11 am

    Hey! I’m glad you’re met-blogging too :D

    By the way, I think I would really have trouble with not constantly hearing Spanish. I’d lose some of my fluency and comfort.

  5. Brenda (unregistered) on February 21st, 2007 @ 10:18 am


    It’s been tough not hearing Spanish constantly. Luckily for me, all of my reading and writing assignments are in Spanish, plus, classes are all held in Spanish. My weekly phone conversations with my parents and random Span IM convo’s also helps me practice my conversational Spanish. It hasn’t been too bad, except for when I’m trying to express something to a non-spanish speaker and I can’t think of how to say it in English!

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