I have wanted to learn Spanish ever since 1975 -- the first time I heard the late great Baldemar Garza Huerta (stage name: Freddy Fender) on my car radio singing “Before The Next Teardrop Falls.” In case you don’t know the song, it is one of those dreadfully sentimental Country Western oldies. Freddy sang the first verse straight and it was as bad as always. I was on the verge of changing the channel when he sang the same verse in Spanish. It was one of the most beautiful things I’d ever heard.
Si te quierre de verdad
Y te da felicidad
Te desea lo mas bueno pa’los dos.
Pero si te hace llorar,
A mime puedes hablar
Y estare’ contigo quando trieste estas.
Does it get any better than that? Not in the world of Tex-Mex music. But as the years went by I came upon Neruda:
Inclinada en las tardes iro mis tristes redes
A tus ojos oceanicos.
Alli se estira y arde en la mas atla hoguera . . . .
Whether in print or given voice, this language held a beauty that was inaccessible to me. My upbringing was a bigger trap than my lack of language. I could never bring myself to devote the time and effort to learn Spanish simply because it is lovely and has feelings and ideas embedded in it that cannot be expressed in English. What’s more, I am bad at languages. Just awful really – and afraid of them.
So I feel enormously grateful to the many Latino Episcopalians in Nevada for giving me final push I needed for this experience. The joy and vitality of the worship and community life of our Latino congregations is just too good to miss. I hope I will be of greater service to our fastest growing congregations, but I am sure of this: their spirituality is already an energizing, life-giving blessing to me, and I will be better able to receive that blessing as I understand more of the language of Neruda, Lorca, Marquez, and the philosopher Miguel de Unamuno.
After 2 weeks of living in Morelia, studying Spanish every day, I feel different in more ways than having just learned some verbs. Learning the language while living in its home culture is somehow transformative in a way it will take some time to sort out. Before coming here, I really didn’t know Hidalgo and Morelos from Profiro Diaz. I had no idea that there was a culture in Mexico the Aztecs never conquered, the Purhepecha who still live here and who ruled Michoacan, the place of fishermen, for 1,000 years, that they built pyramids as temples and the people worshiped outside – loudly so their gods could hear them -- or that images of sun and moon flank images of God above church doorways preserving the place of sun and moon in the pre-Hispanic religion of this ancient place.
Despite my weakness in language, all the individual attention from the some of the best teachers I have ever had has made a huge difference. I have learned so much! I am a long, long way from conversant in Spanish. That will take much more than 3 weeks. But I have the foundation now to study at home. Before coming here, the prospect of even starting something like Rosetta Stone was overwhelming. Now I believe I can do it, especially knowing I will have the support of my Latino brothers and sisters.
One of the big surprises here is that there are so few American students. All the violence along the border that is so exhaustively covered on American news has scared the Americans away. My school, the Baden-Powell Institute, http://www.bpimorelelia.com/, had about 30 Americans at a time until recently. Now you could count us on one hand. This is a long way from Juarez. I feel safer here than in Las Vegas. This is a beautiful city, untouched by urban renewal, full of old style Spanish architecture, no tall buildings, a magnificent Cathedral with the 3rd largest organ in Latin America, good food, and friendly people.
I hope to come back again and again in the years to come.