¿Hablas español?

It does not surprise me that the most common question I get since moving to Miami is ¿Hablas español? Do you speak Spanish? An overwhelming majority of the time my response is, un poco/a little bit. I go on to listen to what the person is saying to me, nodding as they speak, and then when they are finished I usually slip into a panic. What did they just say? Should I say something back even if it is wrong? I did not realize it at first but my inability to trust in my Spanish was starting to hold me back from engaging with people. For me, this was a big problem. I love greeting people and engaging with those unfamiliar to me. Realizing this has given me two missions. The first, to be more open to listening without always having to respond. The second, to trust in my ability to communicate with those who speak a different language. 

Listening is a value I hold very high. I enjoy listening to my friends and community mates about their day and their joys and concerns. Listening attentively allows me to take myself out of the equation and completely be present for another person. Being able to do a year of service has allowed me to learn how to listen to others, even when I do not comprehend their entire message.

The Miami YAVs/Dwellers enjoy attending a Spanish Presbyterian church. At first I was a little hesitant. I was concerned that since I would not understand the message that somehow I would be missing out on my church needs that week. I could not have been more wrong. By attending church completely in Spanish I was called to fully listen. There were times that were familiar, like singing “Holy, Holy, Holy”/”Santo, Santo, Santo” in Spanish or listening to scripture. And times that were unfamiliar, like listening to a Sermon that I could only pick up bits and pieces of. All in all, engaging with the Spanish language on a spiritual level has only grown my understanding of what listening truly entails. 

I studied Spanish at college, but have always been challenged by the language. Conjugating verbs, the past and present tense, and using the correct pronouns always confused me. Seeing the language at work, however, has taught me more than I learned in the classroom. I was waiting for the trolley the other morning when a man sat next to me on the bench. He began pointing at his finger and saying “poca cura”!! I thought at first he was asking me if I had a ring or was married so I said no. Later on I looked over and saw his finger was bleeding. Immediately I reached into my bag and gave him a bandaid. “curita” means “little cure” and context clues would have shown me that. I like telling this story because it reminds me that even though I do not at first understand Spanish, I shouldn’t shy away from it. Often times I receive calls at work from Spanish speakers and pass them on to my co-workers, but I should begin to navigate communicating the best I can. 

Listening takes a lot of energy, especially in a different language. Now I see that this extra effort opens my eyes to learning new things, engaging in new experiences, and gaining a new perspective. 

Gracias por leer! 

-JG

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