My Tongue Gives Me Away

woman using gray stationary bike
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My tongue mimics the swirls of my mother’s; my lips, the miniature acrobatics of my father’s. Their espanol Colombiano, mas especifico, cachaco, what they call the accent bred in the capital, was ingrained in them as natives of Bogota. Daughters of immigrants might not call their parents’ countries home, but home is accents Mami and Papi brought overseas. My earliest memories are of listening to Carlos Vives in my living room in Miami, singing in that steady celebratory rhythm of Colombia’s cumbia. I remember sitting on our carpet in my pajamas, clapping to the music, moving my mouth in attempts to match the syllables they’re all singing:

Mírala Mírala que linda e´Linda e´Linda e´y se le véSe le véSe le vé yo no se quéNo se quéNo se qué tiene mayté”

And so el accento Colombiano was home before I’d ever set foot in that country.

But a Colombian gozadera is different than a Miami party. My adolescence was steeped in a city made up of first generation Americans. Latinos identify with their compatriots but we’re not in **** anymore and Miami’s official language, Spanglish, flows in a rhythm all its own. The tongue of my generation has its own acrobatics and swirls. The slang of the daughters and sons of immigrants is the tongue I boast most confidently. Even to those who don’t understand what my chankletas are, what am asking when I want to borrow a liga, what a chonga is, where to get a cortadito bro, porque pero like dale dime, I’m over here eating shit, going to a getty later irregardless of the mission it is to get there and the pata sucia I don’t want to see because ya tu sabes. Que bola papi, dasit.

I speak the Miami of the TSA agent at MIA that helps me with my bags at curbside check-in. “oh, eh-to ta mui heavy, mami, ke tu tiene aki adentro?” his consonants are definitely Cuban, unlike the consonant glide of my family’s music, but because I was born in Miami, these sounds are also home.

Home is never more real than walking through MIA’s terminals, welcoming me to commercialized paradise, thrusting images onto me of those famed beaches and nightlife. Though those images are not really representative of my Miami, that walk will always feel like a warm embrace, a precursor for that blanket of heat that will soon encase me and the sun’s rays I became accustomed to growing up but miss so deeply on those gloomy days away from home. In places people ask me to say my name and the mouth full of “Colombia” one more time. Wow, when you say it, it sounds so nice.

French came later in life. A language as a discipline was an unfamiliar practice. But I became enamored with la chanson francaise and so I began to study it. And them.

The French.

The French who parlent tres vite and my ear stretches to keep up with this language’s cadence and slippery mixture of tones and ‘en fait’s. Each “ehh..uhh..” a marker of thought. For me, it’s a song.

The voices of The French place me all at once on an alien planet and a dream fantasyland. It’s the sounds, much more than the sights that signal my departure from the comfortable. I love it. To hear a child (dressed impeccably) speak in French is perhaps my favorite sound in the world. The language glides out of their tiny mouths like a white satin ribbon to form fully nuanced Parisian sentences and I suddenly feel infantile in comparison. They, standing feet below, become the most intelligent and learned scholars who understand parts of this world I only dream of. They have a tongue, a whole plane of being that was rooted in them since the moment they were born. I can learn it, sure. But it won’t be the same. Their sounds bloom from the purest of roots. Grown in artificial sunlight and potted by my own hands, my flower will simply never be as radiant as theirs.

But still, for years and years, I immersed myself. In Europe, I boasted the three-tiered levels of my speech. I wasn’t confined to English when my French failed me. Spanish proved to be a more interesting buffer between French and misunderstanding. The locals, used to practicing their English with tourists, would be intrigued by my otherness. Where are you from? They’d ask me. Sometimes I’d say Colombia, sometimes I’d say Miami. Sometimes I’d say the States but this blunt declaration of my American-ness was usually last on my list of self-representation. I feared, I think, the associations they made with my American title. So heavily diluted by the media in Paris. My non-whiteness didn’t assent to their image of what an American was, so they probed a bit harder, American? But you speak Spanish? And French? Always a question mark at the end. Not really a statement of fact but a questioning of it. “Yep,” I’d answer with a smile. TC mark

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