When I was in kindergarten I tried explaining to my teacher that I wanted to go see my fairy godmother. My teacher who knew fairy godmothers didn’t exist tried convincing me that I did not in fact have one. She didn’t succeed. Because in my head my fairy Godmother was flesh and bones, I had spoken with her and I knew she was my Godmother from my baptism. But the only word I knew to translate “madrina” in English was fairy godmother. So until I learned I could drop the “fairy” I continued to call her my fairy godmother. (She’s actually 30 times better than a fairy godmother).
I later learned this teacher was fired, seeing as she had pinched me, made me feel dumb, among trying to take my fairy godmother away I thought it was justice served.
I continued to have situations like these that caused some people laughter, some confusion for others, and a lot of frustration for me. Until I mastered English pretty well. It helped that I liked to read.
It’s experiences like these that cement my Mexican-American identity. But growing up bilingual I was the designated “say something in Spanish” entertainment or for people genuinely in need the translator from English to Spanish and vice versa.
I was talking with my mom about how certain words don’t have an exact translation. Yesterday we surprised my sister with a baby shower. In reality it was a baby sprinkle but I don’t think the audience we were giving invitations to would understand the difference so I just left it the same. Also there wasn’t a translation for baby shower. Maybe because it’s not a Mexican tradition according to my mom. It’s one of those traditions we’ve adopted.
We also talked about how in English there’s a difference between snow and ice cream. In Spanish it’s all “nieve” even “helado” doesn’t do it justice because it’s a blanket term for ice cream and popsicles.
Or how in English the phrase goes “it’s raining cats and dogs”, but doesn’t it make much more sense “que este lloviendo a cantaros?”.
I bring this up because words can literally be lost in translation. And over time things lose their meaning. This is why it’s so important to me to keep languages alive. I love my duality. How I’m not really Mexican and not really American but a blend of the two and I understand aspects of both cultures and can communicate fluently in both. I don’t want this to be lost on my son. It’s why I only speak Spanish to him. Maybe he’ll struggle a bit once he gets to school like I did, but the benefits of raising a bilingual child definitely outweigh the alternative.