Bilingual idiot


I bought this dictionary in 1979 at the PX in 29 Palms, California.

As a boy, I set the ambitious goal of learning ten foreign languages. I’m not sure how I came up with the number ten, but once I picked ten I stuck to it. And I’m still sticking to it even if it’s an unrealistic goal. As of today, I am still many languages away from achieving fluency in ten. But I like ten because it’s a nice round number.

I have had several setbacks along the way. For example, people would tell me, “Learn to speak English first!” (Have you ever noticed that people who insist that foreigners learn English only speak English? I’d like to see them learn another language!) Of course, they were right because my first language was Spanish. I spoke English very poorly at first and later with a foreign accent.

In my quest for foreign language fluency, I have studied many languages over the years. At Divine Heart Seminary, I took French as an elective my sophomore year in addition to Spanish with Señor Mordini. When I went to Tilden Technical High School, I continued my French studies with disastrous results, about which I wrote a blog post. At Gage Park High School, I gave up on foreign languages altogether.

In the Marines, I tried learning Japanese from a roommate who was stationed in Okinawa, Japan. I learned only as much Japanese as he knew, which wasn’t very much. But I can still say, “Domo arigato” and “Sayonara“! During this time, I spent a lot of time reading. I many read books on English grammar. I would check out books on grammar and writing from the library and read them cover to cover. My Marine roommates thought I was crazy, but that helped because then they avoided started trouble with me. I also bought a Spanish/English dictionary and I would browse through it to improve my Spanish vocabulary. I got this great idea from reading the biography of O. Henry who read a dictionary that he received as a gift for the first book he had ever read. Amazingly, I also improved my English vocabulary.

When I finally went to college, I studied Spanish in earnest for the very first time. The grammar I had learned from the English grammar books helped me immensely with the Spanish grammar that we studied in class. I also took Portuguese and did well in class, but I never did learn to speak Portuguese fluently because of a lack of time and contact with Portuguese speakers. I took Latin because I thought it would be fun and might prove helpful for the foreign language requirement if I actually went on for my Ph.D. Well, I didn’t learn to speak Latin either. Not that anyone speaks Latin anymore, but I did learn the difference between the relative pronouns who and whom.

So, I thought I would take a practical language that someone actually speaks worldwide.  I studied Russian for four semesters. There were very few cognates! It was only then that I realized that I had only studied Romance languages, other than English, and learning new vocabulary was fairly easy because of all the cognates derived from Latin. Sadly, I did well in Russian class, but I can’t speak Russian either.

The next language I studied–actually, I’m still studying it–is Polish. There aren’t very many Latin cognates, but since I studied Russian, some of the grammar rules are similar. Polish pronunciation is much easier than Russian. The most amazing part about learning Polish is that the accent always, with very few rare exceptions, falls on the second to the last syllable (la sílaba penúltima, en español). After studying Russian, I feel more confident studying Polish. Perhaps I will learn another language after all!

But I’m not so sure I will. Even though I have attempted learning other languages and failed, I console myself that I’m fully fluent in Spanish and English. Perhaps I am destined to forever remain a bilingual idiot.

Rebeca


Con mi prima Bequi en su fiesta de graduación, México DF.

One of the highlights of my trip to Mexico was going to my cousin Becky’s college graduation party! Becky invited me last summer when I visited with my sons, so I planned to go to México for it. She graduated as an engineer in December and from now on she will be addressed by her official title of ingeniera. As part of her curriculum, she had to learn English because it’s an international business language. So when she couldn’t take courses she needed in Spanish because they were closed, she would take them in English. We went to see The Day the Earth Stood Still, El día que se detuvo la Tierra in Spanish, and Becky insisted that we see it in English with Spanish subtitles. In many Mexican theaters you have the option of watching movies dubbed in Spanish or in the original English language with Spanish subtitles. Unlike when I was boy, the movies come out at the same time in Mexico as in the U.S.

This was such a cool graduation party! We went to the Ex-Convento de San Hipólito near the Zócalo in downtown México City. There is a courtyard in the middle of the building, but they put up a temporary roof in case it rained. We arrived at 9:30 pm, even though the party officially started at 9:00, and many graduates and their guests were still arriving. Becky had a table for ten reserved for her. Her parents, my cousin Mara and her husband Enrique, Becky, six of Becky’s friends, and me sat at that table. There was a DJ playing music until the evening program began. A few students gave speeches and each table cheered on their graduate. Click on the link below to hear Becky’s. And, of course, there were Mariachis. Everyone who wanted to drink brought their own liquor. The waiters for our table would then mix our drinks. We had tequila, so the waiter made me a Paloma, tequila with Squirt (Esquirt in México). This custom was something foreign to me. For some strange reason, one of the waiters kept speaking to me in English. The waiters served us our dinner, but I can’t even remember what we ate! After dinner, there was dancing. Everyone danced except me. That is until Mara asked me to dance. My cousin-in-law Enrique commented that I danced like an American because I didn’t raise my hands above my head.

Each graduate was seated at a table for ten, for family and guests. Throughout the night, tables would cheer on their graduate. They would erupt into cheer unexpectedly. Click the link below to hear our table cheering Rebeca proudly.

http://davidrodriguez.us/media/Becky.aiff

The party roared all night long. About 6:30 am, the waiters started asking us if we wanted coffee and chilaquiles, fried tortillas with eggs. That was the one thing I loved about the party. We didn’t have to forage for food after the party as we usually do in Chicago. As the evening progressed, the waiters became friendlier with us and talked with us when they weren’t busy. The one who spoke English to me was especially friendly. I told him I could tell he had lived in the U.S. At first he denied it, but then admitted to living and working in Las Vegas for about eight years. But he came back to Mexico because he missed his family. I asked him why he spoke to me in English. He told me that he thought I was Canadian! Go figure!

Well, the party was a lot of fun! When we got home, we immediately went to bed because when we woke up, we were driving to Ixtapa Zihuatanejo!

¿Mande?


I just received a very disturbing phone call. Well, maybe not all that disturbing, but it made me think. A Mexican female–I could tell by her accent when she spoke Spanish–called and asked for Señor Rodríguez? Señor David Rodríguez? At first, I thought it was one of the Spanish TAs asking about a solution to a problem while teaching at UIC. But I didn’t know this woman at all. Our entire conversation was in Spanish. The more I spoke as I answered her questions in Spanish, the more engaged she became in our conversation. Then, she asked me if I spoke English. If I was bilingual. I answered yes and yes. In fact, I told her, I was very fluent in English. She sounded very disappointed. I guess I spoke Spanish well enough for her to think that I didn’t speak English. Apparently she was trying to gather students for an ESL class. I think I hurt her feelings because I spoke English–but not to her. This comes as quite a surprise to me because for my entire life almost everyone I ever met insisted that I speak English. And today I finally met someone who was disappointed that I already spoke English.

Are you discriminating against me because I speak English?

Passport issues


My Mexican Passport

Well, since I always talk about my name, let me get back to the name of David Rodríguez. Well, actually, David Diego Rodríguez. I bring it up again because I plan on going to Mexico in July with my sons. And every American citizen needs a U.S. Passport to return to the U.S.

So, I had to apply for passports for all three of my sons who are natural citizen by virtue of having been born in Chicago, Illinois. Two of the three passports were immediately processed by U.S. Department of State. The one for my son with my name caused a delay. Apparently, they needed more documentation for him. I guess there are just too many David Rodríguezes. He’s only 18, so he doesn’t have a credit history, a driver license, or a credit card. They needed more proof to verify his identity. I wasn’t sure what they wanted or what other documentation I could provide. One of the enclosures listed in the letter was a Supplemental Identification List, which they had forgotten to enclose. I sent everything I could think of, including photocopies of his state ID, his school ID, his W-2 forms, federal tax return, state tax return, a prescription label with his name and address. I was extremely relieved when they accepted the enclosed documentation. I finally received his passport yesterday. We’re all set to go to Mexico now.

I remember when I went to Mexico in 1978, things were so much different. I had forgotten how to speak Spanish. I still understood it, but I never had to speak it much in Chicago. I stayed in Mexico for about a month and so I quickly learned to speak Spanish again. However, when I returned to Chicago, I had trouble speaking English again. I flew back on Mexicana Airlines and when I was in Customs at O’Hare Airport the agent asked me for my proof of citizenship. All I had was my driver’s license and birth certificate. I gave them to him and then I worried that they wouldn’t let me go back to Chicago. You see, my driver’s license didn’t have a picture of me. Back then, they were printed on thin cardboard and only described the driver as 5’8″, 128 Lbs., BRN Hair, BRN Eyes. My birth certificate didn’t have much information on it either and my last name was misspelled as, “Rodriquez” with a “q” instead of “g.” (My mother never thought the mistake was important enough to correct when she received my birth certificate in the mail soon after I was born.) The agent looked at my documents carefully and asked me if I had anything to declare. I understood him perfectly, but I couldn’t form the words in English. I thought for sure that I would be detained by the authorities because I couldn’t make myself speak my fluent south side English. But miraculously, he let me through. I could then understand how there were so many illegal immigrants from many countries in the U.S.

When I went to Mexico last December, it was a little more difficult to enter Mexico. I handed my passport to the agent and he entered the information on a computer. He asked me some questions and when I answered them satisfactorily, he let me back into the U.S. Then about 60 miles into the U.S. there was another checkpoint where I had to present my passport again and answer some more questions. I think they mainly asked me the questions to see if I really spoke English to prove I was a U.S. citizen. The agent spoke quickly and slurred his words together as if to test my knowledge of English. Either that or he was just bored of his job and just going through the motions. He asked me where I was from. When I said Chicago, he asked, “Born and raised there?” “No. I was born in Perth Amboy, New Jersey.” I suppose that if someone didn’t speak English well, they wouldn’t have been able to answer those questions, raising suspicions. I was just glad that I didn’t have trouble speaking English this time.

My father


José Diego Rodríguez Rosiles

My father is a very unique person who has his own way of doing things. He was a factory mechanic who could work wonders with duct tape. No matter where we were, he always had some tools in his pocket. He was proud of being mechanic. If someone had some sort of mechanical problem, my father would volunteer to fix whatever needed fixing. No problem was too small for him. A squeaky door? He carried an little oil can with him. Door knob keeps falling off? My father would attach it with his tools and extra screws that he always carried with him just in case. I should write a novel about him: My Father, the Super Fix-It Handyman. Or maybe make him into a comic book superhero who can fix any problem no matter how small. My father was always fixing bicycles, skates, skateboards, and automobiles for everyone on the block. He had just enough mechanical aptitude, talent, and expertise to keep him trapped in the middle class the rest of his life. And, it turns out that I’m not much different than him, although I’ll never be able to make repairs just like my father.

When I was a boy, my father often embarrassed me. He always liked to attract attention to himself by telling jokes in his broken English. I was afraid to bring home friends when my father was home because then he would want to get in on the conversation with them and he didn’t speak English very well. So most of the converstation would involve a lot of repetition because he didn’t understand everything that was said, but he wanted to show that he was eager to learn English. It’s now forty years later and he still does this. He has never stopped trying to learn English. If I talk to him in Spanish, he still insists that I speak to him in English so he can learn English. In fact, if I talk to him in Spanish, he doesn’t understand a word I say.

Another thing about my father was that he was always so Mexican. He could just stand there silently and everyone would know that he was Mexican because he always stood there looking so Mexican. He was about 5’6″, thin, with black hair slicked back with vaselina, brown eyes, and a Cantinflas mustache. Plus, you could see the tools bulging from his pants pockets, along with a small jar of salsa or peppers, just in case.

Whenever we did something together, he would always preface it by saying that he used to that activity in Mexico when he was a boy. When we played basketball in our backyard at 4405 S. Wood Street in Back of the yards, he told us that he always played basketball with his brothers in Celaya, Guanajuato, Mexico. When I was eight, I actually thought that basketball was a Mexican sport. While playing, my father told me that once I stopped dribbling the ball, I couldn’t dribble it again. I had never heard of such a rule. I told him, “I don’t want to play the Mexican way.” Of course, I didn’t know any better at the time even though there is a rule against double dribbbing.

For breakfast, my father would prepare this concoction that he learned to make from his father in, you guessed it, Mexico. He would pour some Mogen David grape wine into a glass, put in a raw egg, and mix it up together.  He would drink the first glass to show me how it was done. Then, he would hand me a glass and I would force myself to drink it. At first I didn’t like it and I told him that I didn’t want a Mexican breakfast, but I eventually learned to like it. I also learned to eat raw eggs right out of the eggshell by poking to holes at either end of the egg. I learned from my father because this is how he ate breakfast in Mexico. This was long before I had ever heard of salmonella. I guess God does protect children and idiotas. 🙂

Spam


I still enjoy watching Monty Python.

My first recollection of Spam is eating it at home. Fried. With tortillas. I was fascinated with the whole process of opening up the can with the little key that was attached at the bottom. When my mother finally opened the can, I was expecting to see sardines. Not ham because the can was too small. So my mother fried the Spam and served it to us on tortillas. We ate it occasionally just to vary our diet a little. But not too much since we always ate beans, rice, and tortillas at almost every meal.

Since I am speaking of Spam, I am reminded of a certain British Comedy troupe who coined the term spam for all that unwanted e-mail that we receive. But not intentionally. They had a skit in which the waiter recites the menu, most of which is comprised of Spam.

When I was in high school, one of my friends introduced me to Monty Python’s Flying Circus on PBS, Sunday nights at 10 p.m. I was so young and naive that I just didn’t get the show. Who exactly was Monty Python? Where were the trapeze artists? Where was their tent? What strange language were they speaking?

Of course, I knew better than to actually ask anyone these questions. You know how teachers and college professors say there is no such thing as a stupid question? Well, I’m convinced that all my questions were stupid judging by the looks of the people who heard them when I occasionally voiced them. So I never asked questions.

I discovered that Monty Python spoke English–English English, as opposed to American English. Luckily, one of my friends was an English to English translator and he explained the jokes that I didn’t get, which was basically all of them. I would have quit watching Monty Python immediately if it weren’t for my friends and the home where we watched the show.

It started quite by accident when we were at Myrna’s house one Sunday night. Her father, we called him by his first name Tom, told us we had to leave about 10 p.m. because he had to get up early on Monday morning to go to work. He had been watching PBS and then Monty Python started on the tele. One of our friends had actually seen the show before and explained to the rest of us that it was a British comedy. Well, this piqued Tom’s interest and we all sat around to watch it. He forgot all about sending us away until the show was over.

The next Sunday, we all watched Monty Python again at Myrna’s house. We really loved the show and I eventually laughed because I got all the jokes without the aid of an interpreter. One Sunday, Tom told us that we couldn’t come over to watch Monty Python anymore. We watched it at Cecilia’s house for a few weeks, but it just wasn’t the same. Luckily, Myrna told us that we were invited back to her house on Sunday nights to watch Monty Python with her father. He told us that he missed us while watching Monty Python. So every Sunday night we watched Monty Python with Myrna and her father Tom.

But getting back to Spam, that was the skit we re-enacted the most. So the Internet term spam is derived from the Monty Python skit in the restaurant where just about everything on the menu includes Spam: “Spam, Spam, Spam, Spam, eggs, and Spam,” etc.

Well, I thought of all this because of all the spam that I’ve been receiving lately. The maddening thing about spam is not so much that I receive a lot of spam, but rather that I have started to receive it from myself, too! And, I’m fairly sure that I didn’t send it out. I’m not sure why, but I thought I would share some of the Subject lines with you (in no particular order):

  1. You want yours bigger, all men do
  2. Iva debt consolidation
  3. I hadn’t had sex for a while
  4. Whip out your huge manhood
  5. Best offer in gambling history
  6. Huge discount watches
  7. Start seeing dollars pouring in
  8. How about a $2400 welcome bonus
  9. Best Rolex Replica
  10. Elite products for your style and reputation
  11. Enlargement of organs possible
  12. After that it’s only fun and winning
  13. Affordable luxury online in the world’s no. 1 rated replica watch store
  14. Legal software sales
  15. Gravidty (sic)
  16. Win $$$
  17. 10 inches is possible
  18. Online University Diploma degrees
  19. You have just received an e-card
  20. Penis Products Reviewed
  21. Looking for a watch? Visit Replica Classics
  22. Great sex secrets revealed
  23. Your diamond replicas
  24. Perfectly crafted luxury timepieces
  25. Suffer from short babymaker? Don’t loose (sic), the only solution is here.
  26. 15 mistakes every woman made
  27. We give out BONUSES to anyone who joins
  28. Stunning video with naked celebrity
  29. Unsecured debt consolidation loan
  30. Hey
  31. Male enhancement
  32. Small male aggregate is not trouble
  33. Convenient discreet online pharmacy
  34. Real enlargement
  35. Shaved pussies sell better
  36. Come find out
  37. Lovely present
  38. The opportunity presented itself
  39. I was “horny”
  40. Hot sexy latinas all craving for you
  41. Rejoice in your newfound girth
  42. This e-card is hillarious
  43. Do not let them mock at small weener (sic)
  44. Obtain PhD of your desire
  45. Take her longer, harder, and deeper
  46. Need a great gift idea?
  47. Drugstore which guarantees quality
  48. Size enhancement a scam?
  49. Shiny pieces of sheer beauty
  50. Want to be a hero in bed?
  51. Three inches in just weeks

Abuelita


Mi abuelita en México.

I remember when my abuelita came to live with us in Chicago back in the 1960s. I liked having my grandmother living with us because she used to take care of me when both my parents went to work. She even protected me from my mother when she hit me a little too hard or a little too long.

I remember once for homework in the first grade I was supposed to read aloud from our reader to one of my parents. My father wasn’t home, so I went to my mother. She said she was too tired from work to help me do my homework. I told her that all she had to do was listen to me read. The reader was quite simple: “See David. See Ann.” And so on. I didn’t even know that much English at the time.

Anyway, my mother didn’t want to be bothered by me. I kept begging her to listen to me. Finally, my abuelita said that I should read to her. I wasn’t sure if she could help me to read this book. At first, I hesitated because not only did she not know English, but she was also blind. One of the reasons she came to Chicago was to get eye surgery.

I remember we would all go to Cook County Hospital and wait for hours until the doctor finally saw her. After her surgery, she no longer had her eyes. I remember my parents struggling to put her glass eyes into her eye sockets and my grandmother complaining about how much pain she was in. Eventually, my mother learned how to put them in herself. My mother wanted my abuelita to stay in Chicago and live with us. Abuelita didn’t like the weather in Chicago. It was too hot in the summer and too cold in the winter. She thought our fair city was ¡una Chicagada! A rough translation of this word would be “Shitcago.” I couldn’t help myself and I laughed out loud. I’m sure my mother would have smacked me if abuelita wouldn’t have been so close to her.