Spanish Comes Just in Time.
Once upon a time, about two and a half months ago, l was stuck in a motel in Las Cruces, New Mexico, where my car had died: suddenly, without warning, and in the middle of a six lane highway .. wait –
during rush hour. When else?
The cost of the tow truck, a new alternator and the motel bill had left me with exactly $4.26 to my name. Sounds about right. I mean, what’s my point here?
Let’s see..twenty minutes before my car came to a dead stop, I’d been lying in a hospital bed a few blocks away, expecting surgery and rehab for which I’d been waiting three and a half years. I’d prayed only that it wasn’t too late: that is, I’d certainly been able to walk three and a half years earlier. Had New Mexico’s public health system included actual medical treatment, I’d have been walking long ago.
I shouldn’t have been surprised when I was told there would be another delay, but I was. By now, though, I’ve learned that filing complaints, calling Santa Fe, appealing to state social workers and otherwise pitching a fit are stupid things to do if you are poor in New Mexico. So two nice medics wheeled me out to the hospital parking lot, sort of shoved me into my car, tossed my walker in the back seat and waved as I pulled into rush hour traffic. Hopefully, there’d be someone around to shove me back out of the car when I got home. A few blocks later, my car suddenly slowed down….
And that’s where you came in.
Five years ago, I stood alone against Vampires Are Us Media Group, aka GateHouse Media and its neoliberal lawyer and/or journalist pals.
At stake was the life of a Mexican-American father who was being framed for murder after he had acted to defend himself from a white supremacist attack .1
During and after the case, I was attacked by a relentless barrage of lies, threats, retaliation, libel, and textbook defamation. 2
It turns out that the idea of a reporter’s faith in the truth is actually a huge media joke.
Everything that made up my life was smashed and broken in order to destroy my credibility.
After they broke my heart, they broke my back.
Meanwhile, Business Begins in the Motel Lobby
In spite of the increasingly surreal quality of my world, I nevertheless maintained a dim sense that life went on. For example, I awoke the next day from motel dreams of swerving traffic and began lurching down the hall toward the free breakfast. A sharp flash of pain immediately reminded me that I’d left my walker on the passenger seat of my old Crown Victoria, which had been towed away. The pain remarked, in the overly familiar tone of a permanent guest, that the motel hallway had certainly grown longer overnight. I ignored it hatefully and leaned heavily into the wallpaper, sliding almost horizontally toward the distant lobby.
The breakfast area was a sea of Anglos: half of them were attending business meetings, and the rest were families on vacation. I looked around for something to help me through the line and as I grabbed a large luggage rack on wheels, I was pierced with longing: a memory of gliding swiftly through crowds, able to estimate their size, take photos, grab phone quotes and spot the outside auditors arrive without missing a beat.
Then I moved my back the wrong way and cried out as a flash of electricity instantly knocked me over – I mean way, way over. I was bent completely in half and I couldn’t move. Everyone just sat and pretended they weren’t looking at me. I looked at the floor because it was all I could see.
“I’ll get to her as soon as I can,” a motel employee said impatiently (and to someone else!) from behind me. Instantly I was resolved not to ask for help.
However, I knew that I would soon fall to the floor, so I rapidly ran through my options. I was fairly sure that if I cried in front of this large group of strangers, I would hurl myself in front of the first rapidly approaching cement truck I could find.
I heard what sounded almost like a sort of scuffle, and twisted my neck as far as I could. A man rapidly approached, elbowing people aside so that he could place a chair under me and – very slowly – help me to sit down. With the authority of a single gesture, he signaled a passing businessman to assist him in lifting the chair into an adjourning lounge and getting me onto a couch, Once lying on my side, the pain soon subsided.
The man’s name was Ruben, and he was evidently pissed off at the entire breakfast crowd.
(Hey, me too hermano! Over here! I am pissed off too – at everyone. !Mira – aqui!)
?”Usted hablan Espanol?” I asked Ruben. English was not working out for us.
“Si, si!” he replied enthusiastically and I arranged my brain in preparation. At least ten or twelve minutes later, however I realized that my brain had bypassed the prep zone and gone, unsupervised, straight to Spanish.
This blew my mind. I’d been speaking Spanish freely and effectively without thinking about it!
Let me tell you, it was like a visit from magic! I shall never forget it. My brain had inexplicably changed in significant, even profound ways, and my world had suddenly become much bigger. Infinitely bigger than if I had suddenly been able to get up and run.
Ruben and I didn’t have a complicated conversation, but it was, by every measure the best kind of conversation because it connected us. He was a Mexican national who had recently taken his time exploring North America’s west coast from Vancouver to San Diego. He said he had seen Mexicans everywhere he went. I told Ruben that I have been studying Pancho Villa and E. Zapata. Some of Villa’s generals were actually Americans – these were by far the most moronic scoundrels in the conflict. ( No, I didn’t say “by far the most moronic scoundrels” in Spanish.)
Villa himself, of course, had the heart of a lion.
When I mentioned the EZLN and “Commandante Marcos”, Ruben gave me a huge smile and a small victory sign. I told him that for 15 years my life’s biggest dream has been to join the Zapatista struggle in some way. Ruben said they are a role model for every resistence struggle in the world. He thought the right-wing coup in Brazil should be a global priority right now, because it represents a huge threat to all of Latin America. Looming right behind that is, of course, the relentless aggression of the United States.
We ended by vowing that Hugo Chavez will live forever and the Bolivarian Movement will triumph. The very last thing I told Ruben was that although I was born in New York City, Mexico is the country of my heart. Ruben didn’t roll his eyes. (Thank-you, lord ) Instead he called me a sister of Mexico before disappearing around the corner.
That afternoon, I drove north through the bright desert. To the west, eight or ten coyote loped along at easy pace, out well before sunset and close to the flatland farms they know to be dangerous. They were looking for water.
What I knew had been lost to me: I didn’t believe it anymore. But Spanish had returned it to me that morning (or at least pointed the way) because Spanish holds memory forever. It infuses the past into the present until collective memory crackles in the air. As itself a living thing, Spanish recognizes you.
I was more than halfway home. Although the day remained shining yellow and blue, the earliest signs of evening had begun to appear in the western sky – so subtle as to be nearly invisible. By now, Ruben was zipping through West Texas, heading southeast to San Antonio, where he planned to cross the border at Laredo Nuevo
If only one comrade can hear you, all can hear you.
Some families are lost to their daughters forever, and some are not. Somewhere, the people are waiting intently for snow.
The last and smallest of the yellow flowers are blooming now in the New Mexico desert,
Still, even in loneliness, no heart beats alone.
!JaJaJaJaJa! (Ha, ha, ha!) That is the sound of my remembered laughter. No matter what anyone says, it is also the sound of Sandinistas laughing from far away.
Was it magic? Well, my Spanish adventure hasn’t happened again – not like that, not that way. For the most part, except for the common exchanges of daily life, and a political vocabulary known to all, my road to Spanish remains a careful and deliberate, albeit always generous one.
But hey! Don’t you know that God sends Spanish just in time?
N O T E S
These are meant for readers interested in further clarification, and supplement the numbered statements above.
111. Media and popular support for my refusal to identify a confidential source evaporated in the face of my conviction for contempt of court. Without my knowledge, First Amendment stars such as Harvey Silverglate and Lucy Dalglish joined corporate media lawyers in a behind-the-scenes effort to force my testimony. This is in and of itself a basis for disbarring all attorney on both sides.
2 Worse, the coverup was itself a series of flagrant federal civil rights law violations that propelled already alarming evidence of entrenched press/corporate corruption into a much more chilling sphere. It revealed that non-profit public policy giants such as the ACLU have a real disregard for both the First Amendment and sections of federal civil rights law. It’s a disregard as genuine as that displayed by the most recalcitrant corporate offenders.