So from now on every Thursday I’ll be doing like most people on social media and posting pics of me from my younger days. But of course I’ll have to tell you a funny story or two, right? So this is me when I was 26 years old. The year was 19none of your business and I was teaching at an Elementary school just outside of Los Angeles. This was the pic that was taken for the school for that year. I had recently moved back from Barcelona, Spain where I spent a glorious year learning Spanish and Spanish culture, making tons of friends and getting my heart broken. Yep, in this picture I’m nursing a broken heart but that’s another story for a different day.
Anyway, since I was homesick and heartbroken I decided to move back from Spain and I almost immediately got a job teaching in a 1st grade classroom. And guess what? I was teaching in Spanish! But here is what happened when I was called in for the interview. The principal wanted to be sure I could speak Spanish so she called in another employee so he could ask me questions. I wasn’t worried because I had basically just moved back so I knew my Spanish was excellent.
The conversation went something like this:
“Roni this is Miguel. He’s going to ask you a few questions in Spanish.”
I replied, “Ok great!”
Miguel asked something in Spanish and as I started to answer he immediately started laughing. Yep. Laughing.
I looked at him and said, “Why are you laughing?”
He said, “Sorry! It’s just I’ve never heard or seen a Black person speak with a Castellano accent, it’s funny to me. Plus your accent is really heavy, but your Spanish is excellent.” he said trying to hold back giggles and not doing a very good job at it.
I can’t lie, I was thrown. I mean, who gets laughed at during an interview? But I handled myself well and got through the questions and was hired immediately. I was upset with Miguel for laughing because I didn’t see anything funny about it but now that I’m older I understand his point. Spanish in Spain is very different and it isn’t often you see a Black person speaking with that accent.
This was a long time ago, I don’t think he would laugh now and I wouldn’t be offended now. Why, you ask? Because I’ve traveled enough to know not to get irritated when people don’t know things. He wasn’t being mean and he wasn’t rude, he was just surprised.
I’ll never forget the first time I saw a Chinese person speaking French, or the first time I saw Black people speaking French. It was so strange to me because it wasn’t something I had seen before. Now that I am accustomed to seeing those things, it doesn’t even phase me but it’s now a part of my life. When I was staring at the Chinese girl in Belgium or staring at the Black woman in France while they were speaking French, was I being ignorant? Was I rude? No, it was just unfamiliar. Travel breaks down unfamiliarity and makes what was once strange become the norm. It’s one of the many reasons I love traveling, it helps me to become a better person.