Language as a Door

I am in DC this weekend for a meeting that I had today with a research collaborator and a potential project lead at the World Bank. It was a really interesting conversation — it turned out we were all thinking about similar layers of cities and factors that drive tech ecosystems… in New York, as it turns out. I was thinking about it a lot of this past summer and wrote a grant proposal for further research.

But the piece that I want to write about today just happened.

I am sitting in the AirBnB I rented for the weekend when the housekeeper hired to maintain the space appeared in the doorway. He seemed really nervous, like he was hoping I would be out while he was working. He asked me what I needed and rushed through the closet, asking me in English if I needed this or that. I took a chance, he looked like he could be from my neck of the woods, and switched to Spanish.

He visibly paused and relaxed. Visibly. His shoulders came down from their hiding place up by his ears and he grinned.

He eventually asked me, where did you learn to speak spanish? Your accent…

So we talked about it. How I am from Mexico City and grew up around Spanish speakers with DF accents. I told him about how I was at a bar last night with a number of Latino servers and they were talking about me in Spanish next to me. I pretended to ignore them to see what they would say. They were guessing my age and where I came from, making up back stories for me. It was all in good fun — they were having a laugh.

But the best part, was when I closed my bill and said, Thank you and have a lovely evening, in perfect Spanish. The looks over their faces told me, “oh! She speaks Spanish! Cool!” followed immediately by “oh wait that means she totally understood everything we were saying… oops.”

My visitor thought this was all very funny — he laughed with his whole heart.

He told me where I can go in DC for real Mexican and El Salvadorian food, where to find cheaper groceries, and where I can find a community I would find interesting. It was wonderful.

So, today I confirm that language is my favorite door. The sound, the experience of it, really, makes it much easier to engage with someone when it feels familiar. Spanish, in particular, has always felt like a gentle purr in my throat. I prefer the syllables to English ones. It feels and hits me like laughter.  It will always be a place of warmth for me.

And I was glad to share that with someone else on this cold winter day.

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denrsch

Tea, Tequila, and informal economy enthusiast.

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