Thursday, September 26, 2013


A shocking number of years ago, when I went to Mexico for the first time, my host family asked if they could call me "Tere."  I said I'd prefer Teresa, really. 

It's been so many years I've forgotten my host father's name, but I remember him saying in Spanish--maybe the first significant Spanish sentence I ever understood perfectly--"We want to call you Tere, because in Mexico we think it sounds cold to call someone by their full name."  I thought that was weird, but I decided to go with it.  I never expected to spend more than those few months in Mexico, anyway. 

Fast forward to this past school year, in Oaxaca.  I knew I'd really started to assimilate because I reflexively shortened my students' names after the first couple of classes, if I felt warm towards them--"Fernando" to "Fer," "Mónica" to "Moni," "Karla" to "Karlita," "Adriel" to "Adri."

Now I'm in the U.S., teaching Spanish in an afterschool program as I search for the full-time job I know I will eventually find. I have a student named Victoria, a tiny, brilliant, little thing.  I keep calling her "Vicky," and she corrects me, and I catch myself thinking, "But that sounds so cold!" 
I told Ibis on gmail chat the other day--that's where our marriage mostly happens now--that it's weird being here, because people talk to Teresa, and Tere answers, and they don't even notice.  It's a homecoming, technically, but it's also not.  I'm sleeping in the room that I slept in when I was 11.  I'm volunteering at the same agency I volunteered at in high school.  There are memories everywhere, but I feel oddly detached from them. 
Maybe I'm just old.  But I feel like I'm also a little bit someone else.  Someone who sometimes dreams in a language I didn't even understand back them.  Someone who's done things so differently for so long that everything from Before seems about equally familiar, and alien. 
Ibis said he understood, because people see him and talk to him and think he's the same without us, but he's not; he hasn't even gone anywhere yet, but he's not the same person, either.

I'm volunteer teaching ESL to a group of Mexican women, mothers of young children enrolled in a nonprofit preschool.  Many of them have been in the U.S. for years, but still speak only bits and pieces of English.  They want to learn now because their kids speak to them in English and they don't know what they're saying. 

Yesterday they told me two remarkable things: one, that they wish I could teach them every day, because I'm their favorite.  That means a lot when you've applied to approximately five million jobs in the past four months and only some skeezy insurance company wants to hire you full time.   

They also told me that there's a flower called "Teresita."  It's one we have in our garden in Oaxaca--my mother-in-law calls it "paragüitas," little umbrellas, but according to my students, it also shares the Spanish diminutive of my name.  It's one I've never especially liked, but I guess I have to look at it differently now.   

I guess you never know where you might find yourself. 

It's poisonous!  It's medicinal!  It's...Teresita! (source)



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