When I finally decided to learn Spanish at the age of 39, I had already been exposed to it intermittently. The children’s television show Sesame Street always had Maria or Rafael saying a few words in Spanish. Then my grandmother’s neighbors had five daughters visiting from Costa Rica, and I told them in my broken Spanish about my driving lessons with my grandfather.
“You let her drive on the expressway?” shouted my grandmother.
“Oh, shut up!” my grandfather told her. “She drives better than you!”
These young women who ranged in age from eighteen to twenty-five taught me that the diminutive forms abuelito or abuelita made the word “grandfather” or “grandmother” affectionate and endearing. My abuelito was the only one who had the patience to teach me to drive, and I have my abuelita to thank for introducing me to her Spanish-speaking neighbors.
I like to call my rediscovery of Spanish “mi nuevo amanecer”, my new dawn. And like Paul on the road to Damascus, I have experienced a nearly blinding conversion. An aptly-named couple, Paul from Rochester, New York and Amanecer from Puebla, Mexico, came into my life to root me to my birthplace and to lead me further into the liberating world of Latin America.
With Paul I feel rejuvenated because he went to the same church I attended as a teenager and knows my hometown better than I ever did.
With Amanecer I feel invigorated because she represents our Spanish-speaking neighbor, Mexico, and the path I have chosen to travel.
By marrying Amanecer, Paul made a conscious decision. So did I by choosing a Dominican husband who jokingly likes to take all the credit for teaching me”too much Spanish.”