I can do this, I thought.
But I’m shyer in real life. I eavesdrop instead of engage. The results are disappointing. At theSouthampton7-11, men in paint-splattered jeans talk to each other as they wait on line. I’m listening like I would in class, my ears perked during the listening comprehension part of the exam, hoping to catch a key word so I can mark “Cierto” or “Falso” on my paper.
But I don’t understand much. Only obvious words, ones that anyone who’s taken a semester of Spanish would recognize. One says amigo. Got it. I try to translate the rest in my head but they’re already outside, the door swinging shut behind them.
… A Hispanic woman is scheduled to clean our dormitory every Monday. But on Wednesdays, Thursdays, she’s back sweeping the stairs and mopping the floor. Garbage bags in the hall are filled with miscellaneous unrecycled junk and beer cans. Whenever I see her, I’m almost always doing something that I’m semi-embarrassed by: slumping down the stairs in pajamas with a bowl of oatmeal at 11 am, for example, or getting ready for a run with my iPod Nano in hand. Who needs an iPod Nano? She smiles at me. I don’t know her name. “Hi!” I say.
“Hi!” she says. If she’s judging me, it doesn’t show.
Lately I’ve been tempted to greet her with “¡Hola!” or “¡Buenos días!” and follow it up with “¿Como está?’ To show her that we speak the same language.
… Nearly two years after the January I spent studying abroad inCuernavaca, about two hundred special forces from the Mexican Navy rappel from helicopters and surround the apartment of Arturo Beltran Levya. Guns fire. Grenades explode in retaliation. In the end, the leader of the Beltran-Levya Cartel, one ofMexico’s most-wanted drug lords, is dead. But that does not slow the drug war. And perhapsCuernavaca’s role has just begun.
In April 2010, bodies are tossed onto the highway running from the city toAcapulco. Then an e-mail allegedly from a gang warnsCuernavacaresidents to stay inside after8:00 p.m.Otherwise, the e-mail says, they might be mistaken for enemies. Restaurants close their doors. Schools send children home early. By8:00, the Zocolo, the city center that we frolicked through almost every day, normally filled with vendors and food and music, is empty.
Nothing happens that evening. But in August, four decapitated men hang from a bridge in the city. The message clear: stay on your guard.
Over 60,000 people have died since President Felipe Calderon’s campaign began to crack down on drug trafficking. Some are caught up in the trafficking. Some are innocents caught in the crossfire. Others disappear and are never heard from again.
The Mexican men who gather onSouthampton’s sidewalks—this is part of theMexicothey leave behind.
But the violence isn’t limited to south-of-the-border drug strife. OnLong Island, there are over 330,000 Hispanic residents, approximately half of them born out of the country. One, an Ecuadorean immigrant, walks through the parking lot of the Patchogue train station on the night ofNovember 8, 2008. Seven teenage boys surround him and his friend. They taunt him. In the end, Marcelo Lucero is stabbed to death.
… During the final months of my graduate studies,StonyBrookUniversityannounces drastic budget cuts to itsSouthamptoncampus. Most undergraduate programs will be moved to the main campus. Marine science can stay, graduate creative writing can stay. Everything else must go. No more library and no more dormitories.
I’m at the sink two days after the news breaks and the cleaning woman enters. We exchange the usual greetings. Then she says in English, “The campus is closing?”
“Si,” I say, and continue my response in Spanish.
She wonders what will happen to their jobs. I say I think the dormitories are supposed to remain open through the summer before they close for the fall. As she sprays the counter, she says yes, but they won’t keep everyone on. I reply slowly. I have to catch myself, remember the proper conjugations of verbs.
But maybe that’s the only way to start: by saying something.
Pages: 1 2