As I stared at the tarmac through a window covered in slush, I thought about that Italian family.
The day before, I was at The Tenement Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. It is an initiative dedicated to telling the stories of those forgotten by history, primarily the immigrants who made their lives on this historic block.
To put it mildly, my mom loves this museum.
A walk through the beautifully preserved tenement that housed 7,000 people before it was condemned, would move just about anyone. Toward the end we heard a recording of Josephine, a woman who grew up in one of the apartments, with an astounding memory of every detail she could recollect. Our guide, Naomi, then told us Josephine’s parents were from Italy. Because Italians were often targets of discrimination at this time in New York City, neither Josephine nor her brother learned a word of Italian. Their parents believed if they grew up speaking solely English, they would have more opportunity.
How different it is at Whitman. I can remember numerous conversations where friends of mine talk about how nice it would have been to grow up bilingual, myself included. Ignorantly, I thought how could you not want the mental benefits that come with a verbal jujitsu of two tongues?
A situation like that of Josephine’s parents never crossed my mind.
It was but one experience to learn from, like that of my aunt’s. Or as she says, my “latina mamá.” Born and raised in Chile, she now resides with my uncle in Boston, learning something new everyday on NPR.
I stayed with them for a couple weeks, speaking Spanish in preparation for Argentina. In the midst of a Spanish party, with all the Spanish-speaking family friends, it felt comforting to have support from her and others.
My one piece of advice from this pre-trip, if you are interested in studying in Buenos Aires, is to find people you feel comfortable speaking with. Family members, friends, friends of friends, acquaintances, strangers, whoever you can find! There are often Spanish speaking events on Meetup or Facebook to attend. Movies help too, so I’ve been told. I was surprisingly lazy in that regard…minus a few half-hearted attempts and an in-flight rom-com.
Just before landing, as Anna Nalick once again reminded me to breathe, I thought about all it took to get here, and all there is that lies ahead.