Friday, December 2nd, 2011
When the Latina Nannies Found Out I Spoke Spanish
latina nanny/ © ArTo - Fotolia.com
I had tried to hold out on the older Latina nannies in the park knowing I spoke Spanish. As long as we spoke in English our relationship was kept shallow, limited by their vocabulary. They would ask about my day and coo over my infant but that was about it. I knew that once they knew about me, I would never again be alone for better or for worse. While I occasionally listened into their conversations in order to entertain myself while the baby dug in the sandbox, I also appreciated the lack of forced socialization.
I got caught when one asked the other how old my baby was and I answered. Even though I said. “Thirteen months,” not trece meses, they caught it. A flow of questions were directed at me.
They asked where I was from, San Francisco, and how I came to be bilingual. I explained my grade school, Buena Vista, had been an immersion program, where in kindergarten we got an hour of English a day, with the rest of the day conducted in Spanish. The first day I came home, I told my mother I didn’t think the teacher spoke English and that I didn’t know how to ask to use the restroom. One could say I experienced in some ways the role of the immigrant child–out of their element, unable to get their needs met in their mother tongue.
With the nannies in the park, I found myself again somewhat tongue tied, my rusty Spanish standing in the way of my expressing myself more clearly. So this was how they felt speaking in English, I realized, chuckling in my head before apologizing out loud for my atrocious grammar. “No, no,” they insisted, “Your Spanish is really good.” They may have been swayed by my accent, which since it was formed in youth isn’t bad for a white girl. It’s more likely they were just being polite.
The language switch resulted in a complete turnover of subject matter. They joked with me about how they thought I was the mom at first, since we were both white and once the relationship was clarified, they admitted that was part of the reason they had not talked to me much. They were scared of the “American Moms,” they confided, intimidated to talk to them. Now that they knew I was a Nanny, well, that changed everything. “You’re just one of us,” they said, practically clapping me on the back in welcome.
They asked me why I would want to be a nanny when I had the option of doing anything else I wanted. Why with a college degree would I choose what they were stuck doing? I volleyed back at them that not all occupations are as pleasant as spending the afternoons watching children in the park, regardless of salary differences, but also thought about the privilege I have in choosing to do this as opposed to it being one of few options. They talked about being married at seventeen and widowed at twenty-three, about leaving their children in other countries with relatives, about preferring to be out of the house when the mother is home. They asked me how much I make and told me they make more.
We are different and also the same. We share a routine of diapers, snacks, tantrums and backaches. They have opened their hearts and hands to me as a peer. Being a part of the club means daily offerings of cheerios and the occasional slice of Domino’s pizza. It means an armada of hands go up in greeting when we arrive. Recently when grandma came into town and took over my duties for a week, they asked her pointedly where I was and worried over my job security. They offer me invitations to church socials and wonder why some good man has yet to take me off the market. “Maybe I introduce you to my son,” offers one of them.
There is much we don’t share in common, although little of it comes into play during our interactions in the park. The playground is a place where some of life’s hierarchies are temporarily suspended. We might not all have high-end strollers but the sandbox toys are abundant. The children are coaxed into a communalism where sharing is paramount and good manners are a status symbol. We might all be better off if these ideals were more often extended into the world of adults.
© 2011 – 2013, Kellen Kaiser. All rights reserved.
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