Saturday, December 11, 2010
Bilingual Weekends in Miami
Today my dad took me to a local Cuban restaurant not too far from the town where I live in Central Florida. We get together every so often to have lunch and since we are from Miami, it's quite often for Latin food. Such meals give us a chance to reminisce about his years living in Southwest Miami and the many weekends I would go to visit him there. Those times were meaningful in several ways. Not only did I get to spend a few days relaxing with my dad but I also got to soak up the bilingual environment of his city. I would let him play tour guide, (I hadn't lived there since I was a teenager) and take me around and he let me play interpreter wherever we went. There was no partying; all our activities were low-key. Many were the same almost everytime I would go down to visit: listening to the Spanish-language radio stations most of the way down and back, going to a Cuban restaurant on the Friday night I would arrive, followed by a trip to the nearby Blockbuster store to rent a movie subtitled in Spanish (something I could only do there before DVDs were invented). At his house, I didn't just watch the film and notice the translations, which is fun in its own right. I often picked ones that had lots of legal or technical vocabulary so that I could write down every new word I came across in a notebook I kept for that purpose. On Saturday I usually went to Spanish-language bookstores looking to add to my collection or say hi to one owner that I knew who was sweet and polite with me. Other times, I'd comb through the white and yellow pages of the phone book, which was bilingual, for words and phrases about types of business or how to set up phone service. On one occasion, my dad had gone out of the house to do an errand and left me alone when the phone rang. A woman started speaking Spanish asking for the owner of the house. She was apparently a solicitor so I explained that not only did I not live there but that my dad didn't speak Spanish and since there was no sale to be made she excused herself and hung up. Such occurances are not uncommon. Neither is receiving bilingual junk mail or trilingual (with Haitian Creole) materials from the county, for example about hurricane preparedness, which my dad would gather and save for me so I could study the translations. Sunday mornings were a treat too. We had our little routine of going to our favorite Cuban bakery. My dad would tell me how many pastelitos de queso to order and how he wanted his café con leche so I could then make it clear in Spanish. It may not seem like much but part of the fun was that this place in particular was very busy and fast-paced so you had to pay attention for your number to be called in Spanish and like most transactions in such places, you have to be able to speak quickly and know what you want. On the way back to the house, we'd pick up the newspaper and its Spanish edition and then spend the rest of the morning savoring the coffee and pastries while we took our time reading most of the sections of the paper. It was all short-lived though. The fun ended around 2 pm so I wouldn't get back to my town too late. Then it was back to what a friend of mine used to call 'the real United States'. As with those memorable weekends, our trip down memory lane over lechón, yuca, frijoles y tostones was over before we knew it but delicious while it lasted. My dad moved up to my area a few years ago when he retired. So, even though I don't go to South Florida anymore like I did before, he and I can still enjoy this small part of what used to be my bilingual weekends in Miami.