One Step Forward; Several Leaps Back

I was, and am still, a huge scholastic nerd. By this, I mean that I enjoyed going to school and learning as much as possible. I didn’t always like certain teachers nor their methods, and, admittedly, I took to some subjects far better than others (Calculus and I did not get along). However, I loved being in class and challenged by new material that expanded my mind toward new horizons that I had never even considered.

For me, school was a means of escape and improvement. To quell any inquiries, I had a wonderful childhood and life. Besides the standard disagreements of growing up, I got along swimmingly with my family, for the most part, and I was fed, sheltered, and wanting for nothing but luxuries. Even so, I never quite felt comfortable at home and still don’t, but that is a post for another day. The real focus is that I dived wholeheartedly into academia without any hesitation or second thought.

I loved it. I was learning new and exciting things and felt like I was somehow improving and changing. Of course, I was. I mean, I was still in single digits and growing up. I was bound to change regardless of external factors, but I didn’t know any of that at age seven, so I just assumed that school was somehow the catalyst for what was going on in my head and body. Most of the change was good.

I gained an appreciation of the scientific method of inquiry to put into practice in my life. I learned of the narratives of human history and what we had managed to accomplish. I began to understand how we, as a species, were trying to explain the mysteries of the universe through the logic and order of math and science. I knew how far we had come toward that goal and how much further we had to explore. I only saw the positive that was happening without considering any possible negative. After all, how could acquiring such miraculous knowledge have any ill effects?

It would be a few months before I discovered that my devotion to academia had indeed had at least one consequence. My grandmother is a wonderfully warm woman. I remember my cousins and I going to stay with her for days over the summer playing with each other and enjoying her delicious Mexican home cooking. Seriously, I don’t care what restaurant you claim has real, authentic Mexican food; it will never compare to the dishes made by an abuelita.

I first noticed a problem when I tried to ask my grandma what she was making for lunch one day. I had done it hundreds of times before, but for some reason this time I just couldn’t quite get the words out. Eventually, my cousin, Ari, helped me find the words I was looking for. It was weird, being unable to ask a simple question I had asked before, but I didn’t think much of it.

A few days later, a similar occurrence happened. I was just trying to tell my grandma about what I had learned at school. Again, I simply could not convey what I wanted to say, at least not in a language she could understand. See, my grandmother moved to the states from Mexico later in her life, in order to improve her family’s prospects. She did a brave thing for her loved ones without hesitation. In a way her desire was met as her children and grandchildren were afforded chances we never would have had in Mexico.

However, it came at a cost. Many of her grandkids, her nietos, lost their ability to speak Spanish which means they could not speak to her. It was an unfortunate result of the public school system. We wanted to advance as much as possible and advancement required mastery of English, even at the cost of our original language. Frankly, the more Spanish we forgot, the more we seemed to improve in school.

Most of us began to regain our tongues back. Ironically, or not who knows, knowing Spanish became useful in the later years of schooling. We had to relearn something we had been encouraged to dismiss. The contradictions of life never cease to amaze me. So, conversing with my grandmother has become much easier these days, and I am truly grateful for that. Still, I will never forget the look of distress and horror that flashed across my grandmother’s face when she realized I could no longer speak in the voice she knew. I believe I will carry a twinge of guilt over that for my entire life.