Spanglish, and other parts of summer.
I told you (I promised!) I’ve been working on some happier paintings this week. This one is a few days old, but it makes me really happy so I wanted to post it. It’s about my dear friend E. For those of you who may have just started reading, E is a 20-something girl I met during my internship with the Hope House, a shelter for victims of sex trafficking. We spent the whole summer together. I mean seriously, 24/7.
When I first showed up at the Hope House, I was scared. I was a stranger, an intruder with a paintbrush saying “hey, tell me about your lives!” with a smile on my face, as if I understood anything about what it means to be trafficked. That’s what I felt like, anyway. I thought the girls would hate me for taking advantage of their stories and using them for a school project, as if they were a zoo exhibit. It sounds dramatic, but seriously guys, I was scared! I didn’t know what to say or how to act. (Common sense would have said “Act normal! Be nice!”)
So I tried being nice. I played their favorite songs really loud in the car with the windows down. I laughed and teased and joked. I sympathized with their frustrations and I made distractions to keep them occupied and enjoying life. And then, one day we were driving home from Walmart when E looked over at me and said, “Kyle, we’re friends now. We speak Spanglish here.”
I’ve never felt so happy to be accepted. I was like a middle school kid getting invited to a party. As a Spanish major, I’ve learned that language is deeply personal. When you speak someone’s language, you are saying, “I identify with your culture.” A white girl walking around speaking Spanish like she owns it can seem really insensitive. When E invited me to speak Spanish (or Spanglish, at least), she was inviting me to participate in her inner world. She essentially said, “Hey, you are one of my people. I identify with you.” It. was. awesome.
And then we went on to have tons of adventures all summer long. And we lived happily ever after, except for now I have the privilege of missing her a lot. But hey, sometimes that’s enough.