A whole new world

One of my first few memories from my childhood was when I had to take a picture for our family Christmas card. The year was 2000. The world was big and frightening. I had bangs that just barely reached the top of my eyebrows and a torn up blankie in my right hand. Its name was Chichi and I loved that blanket. It was a safe haven from the life I was about to enter. I walked up, sucking on my thumb and staggering about to find my place for the picture.

There were tall people all around me speaking about things that didn’t make sense quite yet. My mom mumbled something about smiling big and wide for the nice man that was about to take our picture. I was four; I didn’t know how to smile well yet.

The flash was brilliant and burned my eyes. I walked away feeling dizzy and needing my Chichi more than anything. My mom quickly moved me to the side and asked if I was feeling okay. For a four year old that was in a new mysterious city, I was doing pretty okay.

I remember the drive down to our new apartment. The buildings were bright and big. It made me realize just how small I was. We got out of the grey van and walked up the stairs to find our new home. It was filled with unfamiliar furniture and the smell of cigarette smoke. It was our first home in the United States.

As we settled into our new abode, I was curious as to where we were and why we weren’t in Costa Rica. My mom said, “This is our home now.” A place filled with bigger and better opportunities for us. Then she would feed me beans from a can and a clump of white rice to avoid any more questions.

The more comfortable we got into our new place, the more I realized that this was a permanent home. There wasn’t going to be any more afternoon runs to the ice cream stand across the street. Those were now replaced with the morning runs to preschool or the struggle to voice to my teacher that I wanted to take a nap and having everyone in my class laugh because I couldn’t speak English.

After some time, my mom decided it was necessary for me to start learning how to speak English and get more assimilated with the culture. I was now a part of this life, and I had to learn all about it at the same that I was learning all about my Costa Rican culture. I had these two completely different ways of living and I had to learn both of them so quickly. I was overwhelmed and confused. Why did each word in the English dictionary have three or more different definitions?

Learning both English and Spanish at the same time made it difficult for me to succeed in either one. I constantly confuse the both. I’ll pronounce English words according to Spanish language rules. For instance I’ll pronounce the word Salon how I would in Spanish, thus confusing the people around me.

For the longest time I felt like I was stupid. I didn’t like not being able to correctly express myself simply because I didn’t know how to. I saw the way everyone succeeded in their English classes, getting A’s and compliments at the top of their papers, while in the meantime I was getting asked if I even knew what a complete sentence was.

But like anything else, I learned to just suck it up and keep learning. I still need help in both Spanish and English, and I probably always will. But I don’t let that bring me down. There’s always going to be something I’m weak in, but the real strength is from how well I don’t let it affect the way I live.