next town west i’ma find my tribe, part 7: born-again speaker

L.A. had left a bad taste in my mouth. Latin América was more than manna from heaven. It was a resurrection.

I split my time between Cuba, Venezuela, and Colombia. Over the first month, all those years of scattered Romance learning came together. I could communicate well in a matter of weeks. All that Romance grammar finally made sense like never before. I also came into a grip of oportunidades to use my Cantonese.

In the afternoons, I usually went to internet cafés to work on what became Atlantis Loved Kilimanjaro and Fast Cars Mate 4 Life.

It was the grandest adventure. It amazes me to think about it, but in some of the places where I went, I was meeting good friends of all “races” and getting emotionally involved in people’s lives.

In my darkest days in L.A., I used to think maybe human beings were just straight-up tribal. We can’t appreciate somebody unless they come from the same roots as us. Well, the Latin Caribbean proved that completely wrong for me. Most people didn’t just tolerate my differences to them, they embraced them. They wanted to know more about the Asia Pacific and all it had to offer.

Other times, people would ask me if I was from Perú, or Ecuador. Something within me had come to the surface and I gave off that impression. I had flipped a switch and become Latino, a synthetic Latino.

When I got back to North América, friends and family spontaneously told me I looked like a South Américan. Someone I met on Borneo later said she thought I was an American Indian the first time she saw me. I asked her if she’d ever met a Native American. She said no.

My time in the Latin Caribbean had changed not just how I thought and felt, but how I looked. I got a kick out of that.

The night I landed in Los Ángeles, I took a bus back to Hollywood and I couldn’t believe it, I couldn’t believe all this wealth I was seeing. I was seeing it with fresh eyes.

But it also dawned on me that I had never left. I had been in the same place all the time, the same world.

One time, before L.A., I’d gone to Taiwan for five months. When I landed back at Frisco, it seemed like all that time had never taken place. Nothing lost and nothing gained, etc.

This time I woke up the next day and I was still in Latin América. I went around town and half the conversations were in Spanish, but now I could understand them. The new L.A. experience was like a cross between the old L.A. experience and the Caribbean experience. Everybody I met, I spoke to them in Spanish if they could handle it. I spoke Spanish to every Latin expat from the desert to the sea. I spoke Spanish to Korean shopkeepers in Koreatown while Black dudes double-took and triple-took. I spoke Spanish to cocky South Cali Anglo dudes. When that conditioned hatred flared up inside of me, I brought myself back to a different place, to towns in South América where full-blooded Europeans, full-blooded Africans, and every kind of blood in between had treated me like a human being, and vice versa.

The possibilities for change were endless. One time at school, as I was talking to a classmate in Mandarin, this Mexican dude I kind of knew said, “Hey, speak English!” He was just playing. But I said, “¡Yo no hablo inglés!” — I don’t speak English. All the Spanish speakers on hand had a good laugh. It was an idea, the idea that we could cut out the middleman. English was just another language, no más, no menos, not “one Ring to rule them all”. That idea set us free.

I moved back into my old building in Hollywood and met some new neighbors, Mexican expats. They were amazed I knew Los Ángeles Ázules and could talk about Mexican history, in Spanish. One time when I went to visit them, I knocked on the right door on the wrong floor by mistake. A Central Américan teenager I didn’t know came to the door. I said, “Disculpe, me equivoqué,” and went up another floor.

Had I said instead, “Sorry, wrong door,” the interaction would’ve left a different aftertaste. It would’ve had that feeling of embarrassment bubbling under, that someone went looking for his friends but knocked on the door of the wrong race, and I know that you know that I know that you know that nobody crosses color lines in real life.

When I hear Asian parents in North América talk about getting their kids to learn Mandarin or Vietnamese or what have you, I say, why not have them learn Spanish instead? It would serve them a hell of a lot better where they are. It could be the start of something new.

Mixing — mestizaje — is a suggestion from Latin society to the Anglo. What better way to wipe out a race-caste system than to mix it out of existence? Some people would hate it, maybe in secret. That only makes it that much better. The beauty of it is that we don’t hate the haters. In fact, we welcome them arms open wide, or legs, as the case may be with the best and boldest of our ladies. It’s a New World mash-up para todos.

When I hear some people rant about how everyone should learn English, or complain about automated menus having a Para español, oprima el 2 option, I just laugh. And then I press 2 for Spanish.

Read more —

part 1: speaker in the storm
part 2: comeback speaker
part 3: impossible speaker
part 4: honorary speaker
part 5: madaspeaker
part 6: romance speaker
part 7: born-again speaker
part 8: gateway speaker
part 9: touchable speaker
part 10: everyspeaker

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