Language: a short version and/or a long version

color study/Sylvia

the short version:

the language of my ancestors melts into the canvas of my life, drips onto the pavement of the past and splashes, sticky and viscous into the shortened walkway of the future 

the long version:

When I was a child, I knew and understood one language. This language was not on television and it was not overheard on the streets of my small 1970’s Ohio city. It was not spoken at school and as a consequence I struggled both academically and socially. Placed into a remedial class for “slow learners”, my learning curve, steeped and rocky and barbed. 

This language that I spoke at home became a home in and of itself, a home filled with pungent smells and passionate voices. 

The significance of my first language is heavy and dense. It has the weight of pride and beauty, of romance and memory, it has the aura of history and time and place. Like a dark, impending wave from a tumultuous sea, this language also crests menacingly, sulfurous and suffocating.

Several things can be true at the same time. A revelation. 

I chose a path away from my culture, away from my language. For the most part, I have no regrets. Still, as time moves forward, the language of my ancestors melts into the canvas of my life, drips onto the pavement of the past and splashes, sticky and viscous into the shortened walkway of the future.

There will come a time when I have no one in which to share this language. The final shedding of a skin that exposes the raw sorrow of having run so far and so long and having advanced such a tiny distance. 

What then?

33 thoughts on “Language: a short version and/or a long version”

  1. This left me breathless, Sylvia. The short version could be the blurb to the longer piece, hidden within the pages of your story. Beautiful writing (and of course, leaves us curious to what this language was!)

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I am so very glad you did! It is gorgeous writing. (And I should have guessed by the title of your blog but one cannot assume…)
        And, by the way, your photo is beautiful too.


    1. Javier, it means the world to me to know it resonates and I am not completely alone in this feeling. I’m waiting for someone to point out to me that there are 500 million Spanish-speaking people in the world, but as we know, language is not only about the actual words.
      Un abrazo fuerte.


      1. I will never stop being Bolivian and I am so proud of my ancestry, although I have been in England for over 50 years. Being an immigrant means you no longer belong anywhere.
        Un abrazo de vuelta!


      2. When I was 6 years old I visited our family in Spain with my abuelita. When we got to her little town, my cousin shouted, “The Americans are here!”. I asked her, “Where are the Americans?” She laughed and said, “You’re the Americans, silly!” And I was astounded. In America, we were not “American” we were “other”, we were Spanish, but in Spain, we were also “other”, we were American.

        Liked by 3 people

  2. Sad and beautifully written, Sylvia. It moved me. My wife, Peggy, was Principal of a school that spoke 19 different languages at school. Many of her students served as the bridge between their parents and the new culture they had to navigate. We often talked about the challenges. –Curt


      1. I know exactly what you mean: I am obviously a foreigner here in England (although my English accent is perfect): my appearance for starters and when I visit my home country I am a gringo, a foreigner too, I have even been asked for my ID papers by the police (!!).

        Liked by 1 person

      2. wow, I cannot imagine not knowing the language and not being able to hear…I’m sure Peggy helped many kids along with her team and that is a truly wonderful thing. Those kids’ lives were impacted in a positive way and that stays with you FOREVER.


  3. I know what you mean. My mom grew up in a traditional Greek home, and they speak a lot of Greek, and with a lot of passion. Mom speaks with passion when it is needed. (Mom is a second-generation Greek, Nana and Papa are first generation Greeks. ) My dad grew up is a more traditional “American” household, aka no third languages (which is okay too). Grandma, though Japanese in her ancestry and heritage, understood the Japanese language but was not a fluent speaker. Grandpa never spoke Spanish, but is quite fluent with the slang version. When we got into riding horses more and more, grandpa heard Elizabeth and me talking with each other in slang Spanish one day. He asked where we learned how to speak that way. We said we learned it from the grooms; they’re mostly Spanish speakers. Soon the three of us were speaking that way, slang Spanish. Dad overheard us, and soon the four of us were talking in slang Spanish. Dad did learn how to speak the Castillian version in his previous profession.

    The one time we rode in Guadalajara, the grooms were most impressed that we knew how to speak slang Spanish. They wondered about the few Greek words we had sprinkled into our version of slang Spanish. Tara has an excellent ear for languages and regional accents. She learned how to speak slang Spanish like us, from the grooms. Nana loves Tara because she knows how to converse in Greek better than Elizabeth and me.

    About “the Americans are here,” we get that too. We had gone to visit great-Nana and great-Papa in Greece, one of the other cousins had told great-Nana “the Americans are here.” Dad, in his not too good Greek, asked who and where are they. “Why, you, of course.”

    That’s part of our story. Sorry, if it ran long . 🙂


    1. Wow, that’s a lot of languages! And my very first thought upon reading this is “how lucky!”. What a wonderful thing to have been exposed to so many cultures and languages. Funny to know that so many of us have been considered the “outsiders” at one point or another. I wish this led to more compassion for each other.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. There’s something rather heavy about this, but I think the way that the journey gains further contextualisation through where you are now prevents that weight becoming overwhelming, or at least it seems that way.

    If a time comes when you’ve no one to share that language, then it is a time for reflection and continuing. Maybe.


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