Imagine, at 17, I had dreams of becoming an interpreter.
I was infatuated with the Spanish language then. I was a pretty turbulent high schooler, to say the least, more interested in harassing older men, making out with losers, and smoking cigarettes behind the mobile units that doubled for classrooms in our school’s parking lot. I was smart, but school was boring, and it certainly wasn’t a priority. I wasn’t challenged or engaged until Spanish entered my life junior year.
Señora Freiberg was skeptical at first. I failed my first few tests. I’d joined the class late after fighting and fighting our curriculum’s foreign language requirement until I realized without two years of language, I wouldn’t graduate. Even the simple, present tense confounded me. One night I went home, opened my frayed copy of Bienvenidos, and absorbed it for the first time. As a poet and writer, I love language, so Spanish immediately became something I enjoyed, and even came naturally to me. Even when I got the words wrong (often), it sounded so right.
My hometown, Greensboro, N.C., holds an ever-expanding immigrant population. One of my favorite memories is of the Hispanic workers building houses in my friend Nathan’s new neighborhood. Everywhere there were people to speak to, to boldly test this new language. “Yo bebo la leche!” (I drink the milk) I’d holler. “Yo quiero la vaca!” (I want the cow). Who cares about a vexed look!? They understood me, and that was thrilling. The sounds of Spanish words and the new-found ability to say something in another format appealed to my poetic sensibilities. After all, that’s what poetry is—using language to reinvent experience into something new, unexpected.
Señora Freiberg was impressed by my dedication. My F’s turned into A’s, and with my enthusiasm for the language, I was unabashedly her prized student. I was also a little obsessed with her, too. She was a Jewish Brooklynite, teaching Spanish in the South. She made us sing songs in Spanish, sparking my lifelong obsession with the song “La Bamba.” And who could forget Simón Dice—the all-Spanish version of Simon Says. When she learned I wasn’t buying the yearbook senior year, Señora Freiberg purchased one for me anyway; it was a present, she said, for being such a good student.
After two years under her tutelage, Señora Freiberg had a serious discussion with me about becoming an interpreter; she said it was the job of the future. I did like the idea, and I considered it, but college laziness sunk in; so I stuck with English and literature, again enrolling myself into a few Spanish classes to meet graduation requirements, but that was it.
Until now. I’m currently enrolled in a Spanish class at Harvard Extension School. It’s pretty rudimentary—I’d forgotten a lot, but not as much as I’d thought. I’m having a blast honing my skills everyday, practicing with my Spanish-speaking friends, and preparing myself for my upcoming Mexican adventure.
And I love that I get to trill my R’s on a regular basis. Qué rrrrrico!
[This is from my Nov. trip to Cozumel. These mariachis were at La Choza, and are singing “La Bamba!” That’s me screaming at the end.]