Oh, I aced all of the college and graduate classes. But a significant factor in my current fluency has always been relationships. The most important relationship in my life that Spanish has made possible is indeed a family relationship, but not in any legal sense. Not anymore.
Mostly I call her Abuela. Sometimes she's my Mexican mother. I still call her suegra occasionally, though I haven't been married to--or even heard from--her son in about seven years.
But explaining what Spanish means to me, how I learned it so well, means at least mentioning my failed marriage, over and over again.
|Cooking with Abuela|
Armida is not just my friend. She is not just my son's grandmother--though that's how I put it for people who will inevitably wonder why Paolo is brown and Lena is not. Lena could barely understand English, let alone Spanish, when Armida whispered to her that she was the grandmother who loved her most because she had never had a little girl before.
|Grandaddy (Charlie's) & Abuela|
I translate for all of this. And this is how I keep learning Spanish.
I translate when Armida's mother welcomes my family of four into her home and worries that Charlie, AKA "mijo," needs more huevos or chorizo or tortillas de harina every morning for a week. I
|Bisabuela y sus bisnietos|
Paolo is starting to catch on, though. In a few years, I won't be the only one translating.
|¡La felicidad de tener una niña por fin!|
So when people ask me how I learned Spanish, I can tell them about college classes and grad school. I could tell them about student teaching in Guadalajara and maybe gloss over meeting a guy in Puerto Vallarta over Semana Santa, skip the four years before Paolo was born when I had a Spanish surname.
But when immigration & customs ask where Armida will be staying, she doesn't really have an accurate term to explain who can vouch for her. Neither do I--at least not one that will communicate our connection without telling the whole story.
For those who do know, though, they know I learned a lot of my Spanish from--and for--my madre del alma.