My mother didn’t teach me how to love suburban-style or warn me about falling in love with a boy for whom English was a second language.
Is racism is now a chemical additive in our Skippy and Welch’s jars so that when we make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, all that bad stuff sticks to the inside of our mouths and lines our stomachs and eats away the acid?
I go to college in the south, where 80% of last year’s freshman class was white. My roommates don’t know about diversity. They never had the option to fall in love with a boy whose skin glows golden in the summer. Tanned arms wrapped around them on a breezy summer night like a blanket.
They might not think twice about cutting someone down because of the color of his skin or the love threaded into his mother’s cooking.
For the record, she made some of the best lasagna I’ve ever had in my life.
We’re not together anymore. Me and him. It had nothing to do with the way his mother says his name, a breath of air easing off her tongue in a way I could never master. Nor did it have to do with conversations between the two of them, while I stood on the other side of the staircase while they fought—her yelling in Spanish and him in English, just to drive her crazy.
It’s called code-switching.
And it doesn’t matter that he answers her in English, because she retorts back in Spanish.
That’s how love works, too. It happens to each of us differently, but we all know what it is. We all know the other person’s falling even if it feels like they’re speaking a different language.
I’ve been living with my grandparents for a month now. We don’t see much of each other except at dinner, and we generally get along. But sometimes, the generational gap creeps up on me from behind and pulls a sack over my head. Leaves me stuck in the middle of their kitchen with no words to defend someone else’s story.
My grandparents believe everyone in America should speak English. I never met my ex-boyfriend’s grandmother, even though she visited that whole first summer we dated. She doesn’t speak English, but I don’t think she needs to.
Because it doesn’t matter.
“If you live in the country, you should learn to speak the language,” my grandfather says to me. I try to find the words to tell him about the Hispanic families I drive by on the way to work in New Brunswick each morning. The mothers who push strollers and walk their antsy sons and daughters to the front steps of the elementary schools lining the road.
No words come. We are speaking different languages—me, the advocate for those with less money and more love, and him, the consummate logic-abider who does not budge for anyone.
I wonder how he would’ve reacted if my ex-boyfriend didn’t speak English. If my grandfather knew he isn’t technically an American citizen; that his mother sometimes stumbles over words and his cousins will probably always speak Spanish.
“Castilian Spanish,” my grandfather says to me. “That’s real Spanish.”
As if the rest of the dialects are fake imposters lined up in a county jail, waiting to be identified. Slapped on the wrist for trying to be a language. For trying to communicate amongst people, and share life and love and compassion.
If he weren’t from Madrid, should I have loved him any less? Should we cut someone else down because they came to America and didn’t have the resources or the brain capacity left to start learning all over again?
I wonder, if my grandfather moved to Spain, what he would do. I wonder if he knows that you cannot choose how you fall in love, but that you simply wake up, well after you’ve said your goodbyes, and realize the song “Forever Love (Digame)” by Anna Nalick will always freak you out.
Because my mother never taught me about the proper way to fall in love. For that, I can only thank her.