Guatemala Mission Trip

This is the final draft for my Inquiry 1: Initial Reflection assignment.


My grandparents escaped Cuba in 1961 and sought refuge in the United States, residing in Miami and Chicago for the past half a century. Growing up, my mother, who is of Irish and English descent,really wanted us to fully understand our Cuban heritage and would do that by having us spend our summers down in Miami with our family. This really exposed me to and made me love my Cuban background. I like to see myself as mostly Cuban and just a little Irish and English. Except for one thing… Speaking Spanish.

Spanish was my father’s first language and the primary language he uses when he communicates with his parents and siblings. Due to my mothers lack of a Spanish background, my sisters and I were not raised proficient in the Spanish language. Over the first eleven years of my life, my father was able to teach us some basic Spanish. I had already known all of the information that we learned in the first week of Spanish class. Unfortunately, the advantage didn’t extend much farther than that. Over time I noticed that Spanish did not come as easy to me as I thought it would’ve. My biggest insecurity stemmed from my inability to roll my R’s. This was a necessary skill if you wanted to sound at least a little cultured while speaking the language. By the way I spoke Spanish, you would never expect that it was my father’s first language and that this was the language spoken by the people that make up half my ethnicity. And if that wasn’t ego-crushing enough, my sisters had the ability to speak Spanish beautifully. Unlike most people, they did not sound like Americans learning Spanish when they talked. They were able to speak it as if it was their native language. My grandparents love when they talk to them in Spanish because their life in Cuba means so much to them, and they love when we can share their culture with them, even if it is just by speaking their language. By the end of my sophomore year, I became so insecure while speaking Spanish, as I saw my non-hispanic classmates continue to surpass me in their ability to speak Spanish, I decided to not take it the following year.

In August of 2014, my sisters and dad decided to go on a mission trip to Guatemala City to build homes for people living in the Guatemala City Garbage Dump Communities. When they came back that year, they decided that they wanted to go again in 2015, in which I would join them.

I didn’t think that I would have much trouble going down there, while having forgotten most of the Spanish I knew. My dad kept encouraging me to just speak to them with the amount of Spanish I knew and that doing so would help me learn. I could only remember random words in Spanish… I didn’t know how to make a complete sentence! I couldn’t do it. AND to make matters worse, in the year prior,my twin sister, Laura, told me about this horror story of her mispronouncing a word and being mocked by a group of Guatemalan seven-year-old’s for the rest of the day. I’m already insecure enough while speaking, but to be mocked by a group of children half my age and half my size?? No thanks!!!

Instead, I figured my dad and sisters would be around me most of the time so if I needed any helpI could rely on them… And that is exactly what I did. That week I didn’t want to go out of my comfort zone and try to talk a language that I was not fluent in. When it came to talking to the family we were building a home for and the kids in the community, I was a little stand offish and let my family take the  reigns. Everyone else on the trip really dove into it head first, even if they couldn’t speak the language,they were still able to develop relationships with the Guatemalan people. After coming home from the trip, I realized that I let my insecurities prevent me from experiencing the trip like I should have. Thankfully, my family decided to go on the trip again in 2016. The year of redemption, as I would like to think of it.

This trip, my best friend Annie, would be going on with me. Annie took French and Chinese throughout high school and middle school. She didn’t know squat of Spanish, which easily boosted my confidence. I kept reminding myself, “If I think I’m bad, Annie is worse.” Obviously this is not the mind set you typically have towards your best friend, but ya gotta do whatcha gotta do. She would’ve understood. I found myself on the plane ride there writing out words, verbs, and phrases for Annie so she would be able to know the common phrases used there. By the time the wheels touched the ground, my confidence was already boosted. I was ready to just full on immerse myself in the Spanish language.

On the first day of the trip, we got to hang out with the kids that were sponsored by people on the trip. After she went on the first trip in 2014, my twin sister decided to sponsor a little girl named Leslie. Leslie has spunk, attitude, and a outgoing personality. She had met me the year before and understood my struggle with the Spanish language. At just six years old… Leslie gets me. While last year, I didn’t even try to talk to her, this year would be different.

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I walk up to Laura and Leslie as they draw a heart on the concrete floor with chalk when all of the sudden “eres dibujar un corazón!” flew out of my mouth before I had a second to think. The phrase translates to “you are drawing a heart!” Simple, easy things I’ve always known how to say, but my nerves prevented me from remembering them. Leslie looked up at me and laughed, while nodding her head. “So far, so good,” I thought to myself. Throughout the rest of the day I was able to hold conversations withLeslie without the fear of messing up. Leslie had instilled confidence in me and my Spanish speaking ability. I wasn’t worried about messing up when talking to her because I knew she understood. She was the stepping stone that I needed to break down that wall of fear that had accumulated over the years. I tried my best to engage with the community members and the family we were working with as much as I could. I would start out the conversation with “no hablo español mucho” so that they would know what to expect when I would start talking.

Later in the week, I spent some time at a soccer camp with the kids. While I didn’t remember any of the terminology that I learned sophomore year for soccer or sports, I noticed that just a smile or a laugh was enough communication for these kids. They understood that I was just an American, who took sometime out of her everyday life to spend time and have some fun with them. By not letting fear of speaking get in the way, I was able to connect with these children better than I ever have. It amazes me how fear has the power to completely block things out from your memory, in this case, it was what Spanish I knew. This fear that I had built up had completely affected the experience thatI had on the trip the first year. It was not until I let go of that fear that I was able to embrace the Spanish language. While it took a year and two flights down to Guatemala to learn from my mistakes, it was well worth the trip.

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