La imaginación es bien poderosa
Monday 18 February 2008
If you thought that the end of the semester was the end of the Chile experience, well… that’s just plain wrong. I’ve
been wanting to put up some summative, unnecessarily thoughtful and potentially pretentious post about what the semester meant to me… and this is definitely NOT that post. This is a different post I have been alluding to all semester: instances of people mistaking me for Chilena or Latina.
I am pleased to say that the events are FAR too numerous to include all here, so this is a choice sampling, presented in chronological order. The best part about it is that, in the beginning, people mistook me for Chilena only before I’d started talking; later on, I could keep it going if I tried really hard to speak Chilean Spanish and in very short, fast responses.
1) July 17, 2007: Fresh off the plane from Chicago to Miami, shocked to find out that my international Miami-Santiago flight had been cancelled AND having left my copy of The Grapes of Wrath on the plane, I must have been looking quite angry and confused wandering around the Miami airport trying to figure out what to do. I wait at an American Airlines counter for like half an hour, while some employees tell me to keep waiting because the person I need will be back sometime soon. Basically that person never shows up, but I finally approach two ticket agents, one Latino (potentially Cuban) and one not, and ask something. The non-Latino guy explains my options and then I guess looks for my acknowledgement. I must have been staring into space or had a look of utter confusion on my face, because then the Latino guy steps up to me and basically repeats the entire thing in Spanish. This thoroughly cheered me up… and I wasn’t even out of the country yet!
2) Fast forward like a week to our first days in Valparaíso / Viña del Mar. It was probably the first or second time I’d ever taken the micro, and it was packed to the point that my gringo friends and I couldn’t sit next to each other. So I sat down next to an old Chilean lady and tried to look confident about it. Then she starts to ask me something, except I literally didn’t understand a thing she said. So I was like “Cómo?” And she was like “something something something something marina?” I got the sense from her PROSODY (yay neuroscience buzz word! aka inflection in her voice) that she was asking directions to a place. So I explained that I was new there and had no idea about anything. It was an interesting first experience of hearing a Chilean speak their normal, crazy Chilean fast Spanish, after learning about it at orientation. [Interestingly, this was the ONLY time a fellow passenger initiated a conversation with me on the micro... and when I was least prepared to respond.]
3) After the PUCV orientation concert, I was walking with Jeff outside Casa Central towards the Jumbo and a lady on the street hands Jeff a brochure that says “learn English in 6 months.” Confused, he hands it back saying “ya sé inglés” (I already know English) and she said “es para tu amiga,” (it’s for your friend) meaning me… the Chilena?
4) Walking with Katie and Caitlin along the beach boardwalk, a guy stops us and asks if we’re American. He explained that he was born in Chile but now lives in Mississippi and speaks great English. Katie says from Texas, then he asks me if I’m from here. I say, I’m from Chicago, and he nods and looks away. Then I ask if he though I was Chilena, and he said yes, he thought I was the Chilean who translated for her gringa friends.
5) Manuel, the resident jewelry maker in Cajón del Maipo, said I looked like Frida Kahlo.
6) A student named Claudia in my Cine class leaned over while the professor was talking and said something in a REALLY fast whisper. I had no idea what she was saying and had to ask, “What?” a few times, before she finally said in Spanish, “Do you have a pencil?!” Which I did, of course… but it took it as a good sign that I came off as a nonchalant Chilena, someone you could lean over to and borrow a pencil from.
7) At about 5am just as the club was closing in Arica, I was waiting for Tracy to get her jacket (and fend off the security guard that may or may not have been stalking us for about 4 days) when a random Chilean man walks up to me, kind of bats his eyelashes, and says,
- Eres de Arica? (Are you from Arica?)
- No, de Chicago.
- Oh, de Santiago?
- NO. De CHI-CA-GO!
- OOOOOOhhh… HOW---DO---YOU---DO??
8) On the Cata bus coming back from Mendoza, I ask a kid if he’s from Viña (“No, Valpo”). Then a nearby man asks me if I’m Argentina (“No”) and then if I’m Ecuatoriana before I could say “No… gringa!”
9) Okay, this lady really pissed us off (and apparently has a reputation), but during our trip to Buenos Aires, Jeff and I stopped at the famous Recoleta Cemebery. Just before the entrance is this loud lady trying to sell maps of the cemetery. So we walk towards her and she asks us/me: “Do you speak English?” I respond, “Sí, y español.” Then she points to Jeff and says “even him?” [Poor Jeff… but the truth is you don’t look Latino. And that’s just that!]
10) The most unnecessary amount of cursing I’d heard not in a movie was streaming from a Canadian guy in a Buenos Aires pub. He was probably a little too drunk considering the time of day (around 2:30 pm) and a little too rowdy, considering it was just his buddy, the two of us, and an otherwise empty restaurant. He finally catches wind that we’re sitting a few tables over and starts chatting to Jeff about his job in Argentina and travel plans for Chile. And then he says to Jeff, “And I mean, hey, you must be having a great time here in Buenos Aires. You’ve got yourself a lovely Argentine lady with you…” So it’s not exactly coming from a reliable source, but it still counts, right?
11) On the return boat ride from Colonia, Uruguay, Jeff and I happen to sit next to a very vivacious, small Argentine old lady, who is quite eager to tell us about her beautiful city of BsAs and hear about what we were doing there. Jeff and I both talk a bit, and then she turns on her serious face and said that we really need to watch out for the delinquents because they can pop out from anywhere and rob you. So she advised us to not let Jeff talk because he has a giveaway accent… so that means I don’t?
12) In the previously written about late night at Huevo (my one and only of the entire semester!) I found myself wandering around Avenida Brasil with my new friend Graciela en busca de la micro 212, 213, o 214. As we were hunting for the bus, a group of cheerful looking guys walked over to us and started chatting. I immediately realized that I was about to enter a scenario I had been in so, SO few times previously: looking Latina and being with an actual Chilean. I was excited to see how things would unfold. The guys started asking us some questions, like what’s your name, what are you up to, etc. Without any advance planning, Graciela answered most of the questions. But then they turned to me and asked what do you study? And instead of trying to explain what “neurociencia” is, I just said castellano (Spanish). And they were like, okay, where? And I said La Católica, and they were very impressed, since it is a rather elite Chilean school. Then they turned to Graciela and asked where are you from? She said Valpo, and they asked me the same question and I said something like
- Well, I live in Viña, but I’m from Chicago.
- Oh, so you’re traveling to Chicago?
- No, I’m from there.
- But you’re Chilena.
And then Graciela said, “She’s gringa.”
The two guys looked stupefied, and said, “but she was born here.”
And I just really couldn’t help but smiling…