Tuesday, February 26, 2013

How I Came To Love Spanish

Hello there. Today I'd like to share a wonderful piece of writing from my friend Claudia Moss. She is a writer, educator, radio show host, and lover of life! Claudia is currently teaching an online Spanish class and in this article, she shares with us the genesis of her love for the language and culture. Enjoy...

I was born in the postage-stamp city of Waterbury, Connecticut.  It was and is a patch of green amongst heaven-haloed hills populated by people who look like me and people who don’t, their mouths, more often than not, filled with the accented music of other places---lands situated across the sea as far away as Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Russia, Scotland, Cuba and Puerto Rico.  As a small girl, I was fascinated by them, these other-world people.  They intrigued me, from their colorful attire, stripes over plaids and tied and untied heads, to their large families, portly elders and healthy children---long-ago, little people staring at me from where we once stood holding our parents’ hands, staring across an ethnic divide.

The fairer groups tended to nest together, to the north of Waterbury, I soon discovered, when I grew old enough to observe demographics and recall who sat next to me in the southern part of the city, in Walsh Elementary School, and who filled the Kennedy High School halls with me on our way to lunch.  In the Bunker Hill area, on manicured streets, the fairer ones must have felt safe living huddled together in thick houses surrounded by fortressed lawns.

At the foot of Long Hill, though, I felt safe in a lattice of black and brown neighborhoods, where the air vibrated with the predictable music of English and the sporadic fire of Spanish tongues.  In elementary school, I sat beside classmates from across the water.  It was the 60’s.  Mysterious new classmates poured in from the island of Puerto Rico.  Boricuas, they called themselves.  With names like Margarita and Rita and Norma and Otto, they left me sampling last names that tasted like Gonzalez, Arroyo, Rodriguez, Vargas and Lopez.  Some were from another island. Cuba. 

They were delightful anomalies.  Cuban Cintron was one of the most handsome boys my girlfriends and I had ever seen.  My two best friends from Walsh Elementary to Kennedy High-- Ada “Edita” Duvallon and Norma Gonzalez—even more gorgeous than Cintron, remain sacred in my childhood memories.  Edita was a stout, dark-skinned Cuban, who loved reading and chatting about her native land and customs.  Norma, a fair-skinned, raven-haired dynamo, set my blood to racing just staring at her fiery jet eyes and tiny frame and hearing the electric, melodic rhythm of her language whenever she got fired up.  That Edie was a silent sort, preferring to hang back and check the other kids out from a distance, her lip healed from a long gash she never wanted to talk about. 

They were birds. 

Rare ones. 

But I adored the female birds of paradise of all the birds that flew into the city that year and the years to follow.  Yes, some migrated from neighboring cities, their grandparents from Portugal.  Noochie and Nico.  Cousins, they were jaw-dropping gorgeous, a memorable mixture with African-American fathers to stir the beauty of the races in their faces.  

Unforgettable plumed wonders---they fluttered into the classroom and changed my world.  I never tried to capture one, encouraging her to perch beside me, in a desk not more than an arm’s length from mine.  Simply, I prayed one would wing her way to me so that I could examine her close up.  Skin the color of dark caramel to vanilla hues glazed in sepia.  Fingers, long and thin, drifting across notebooks and hovering over yellow number-two pencils, fingernails filed to a delicate point and painted a brilliant red.  Hair queued in a tail on their backs or streaming across one shoulder, never caught up in the style my mother preferred: bangs to minimize the size of my forehead, my paternal grandmother and the queens of Africa’s legacy; a neatly parted top braid tickling my chin; two side plaits above each un-pierced ear and two stacked back braids with one plait braided into the other. 

Rare beauties, these girls mesmerized me, not only with their exotic appearances, but also with the music of another language in their mouths: Spanish.

From its first sound on a native tongue, I was wholly enchanted. 

To my ears, the language was musical.  Romantic.  Enthralling.  Soft.  Sensual.  Like the girls themselves.

After weeks of sitting through their arias and concerts, the day arrived when I decided to master the strange “talk” of their mouths.  I wanted its beautiful rhythm at home in my speech, in my ears, in my brain and under my pen.  These girls made Spanish sound edible and I was ravenous.  I hungered for it, same as I stood salivating in their kitchens, after school, waiting for their madres or hermanas to finish preparing an assortment of dishes de la comida criolla, the cuisine, from what I later learned, that represented Puerto Rican culinary influences of the native Taino Indians, the Spanish conquistadores and the African slaves.  Their strange dinner smells serenaded me at the front door.  Garlic.  Recaito.  Achiote.  Oregano brujo.  Caballero peppers.  Culantro.  And lerenes.  But all I knew then, as a pre-teen with my hands freshly washed and my school books on an end table near the door, was Norma’s sister’s Mofongo (mouth-watering, seasoned mashed plantain filled with vegetarian, pork or seafood) was enough to make me speak in tongues with a Spanish accent!  And Margarita’s Mami’s pigeon peas with rice and topped with a sofrito sauce was so delectable it made me want to backhand anybody who even looked like she wanted to take my plate.  That was arroz con gandules served with chorizo and red peppers. 

I never learned to prepare any of these unheard of dishes in my mama’s kitchen at 13 Wood Street.  My family’s ears and tongues and palates weren’t akin to mine in taste, predilection and inclination.  Spanish words and expressions baffled them.  Not only that, my family never cultivated a desire to sample Puerto Rican cuisine, and they were often perplexed over why I nurtured such a fondness for “those people” and their strange tongue.

Later, when the local girls started coming around with half Puerto Rican babies, my father warned me to never bring one home.  I didn’t know if that included girlfriends, too, but it never seemed to matter much, considering I always ended up trekking to their homes whenever I could after school. 

Maybe my father and others were influenced by what we often heard in the media.  No heartwarming stories came out of the Puerto Rican community.  The media only reported Puerto Rican crime.  One behind the other were heart-wrenching cases of jealous Puerto Ricans who blew their wives away, most times before the children and other members of the family, and always, it seemed, after they “caught” the wife cheating.  I never recalled hearing of a Puerto Rican woman killing her cheating husband in a jealous fit.  Those media reports made me feel a peculiar sort of way about Boricua males for a long time, until I was old enough to understand institutional racism.

I learned to speak Spanish without taking a class, which would’ve been a revolutionary idea in elementary school.  Sitting next to my girlfriends and listening to them speak Spanish in hushed, intimate conversations on the playground during recess, I picked up the ring of the language, the accent and enough vocabulary to understand and respond when we spoke softly in groups during class. 

Whenever my teachers observed me engaged in these conversations, they expressed awe at me having picked up the language so fast, not realizing, I assume, they fully expected my Puerto Rican peers to learn English just as fast, so they could be promoted to the next grade along with the rest of the class. 

Before long, my teachers began asking me to sit next to the continuous stream of Puerto Rican or Cuban students, if we didn’t have other Spanish students in the class.  I loved befriending the newcomers and doing my best to make them feel welcome.  Today, gazing backward, I realize that I have always been a mini ambassador and willing translator.

Sometimes other adults witnessed me speaking Spanish and asked, “Is that little black one speaking Spanish, too?”  Their words amazed me, considering I saw Puerto Ricans ranging in variant shades from white to black, and whenever I observed my friends’ families and others I saw downtown, when my family and I travelled there to shop or to eat pizza, the Puerto Ricans were as varied as the Black people in my own family and those who peopled my neighborhood.

From Walsh Elementary, I went on to attend Kennedy High School, where I made friends with other Puerto Rican classmates and my language prowess improved.  But not long afterwards, my father began speaking of going South.  For good.  And before we pulled out of Waterbury to relocate to Tuskegee, Alabama, after doctors informed my father that my mother was dying of cancer, I was well on my way to a life-long love of the Spanish language and the cultures in which the language was spoken in Central America, South America and Mexico. 

Weeks after the start of the next school term, a tedious road trip behind us, we settled into my paternal grandparents’ home, and my father enrolled my siblings and me in the Tuskegee Institute Public School System.  Since a Spanish-speaking population was virtually nonexistent in my parents’ hometown, I welcomed every opportunity to read, write and speak Spanish, even if that meant practicing on non-Spanish speakers.  Most were encouraging, some derogatory.

In 1976, I graduated from Tuskegee Institute High School, where I’d studied Spanish and was voted Miss Spanish Club for the Homecoming festivities.  Being my aunt was a teacher, I enrolled at the local college, the famous Tuskegee Institute, where I majored in English Education and minored in Spanish.  My passion for the language flared and burned bonfire bright.  While there, I garnered the respect of my college peers and Spanish professors, who elected me to receive “Top Honors” in Spanish at the year’s award ceremony.

Today, I yet love learning and speaking Spanish.

I write the language whenever I show up on my virtual websites, from Facebook to Twitter, and to Spanish speakers and non-Spanish speakers alike.  My intent is never arrogance when I do this.  I do so to express my unflagging love for the language and to share it with others as a beautiful, romantic and musical gift.  Un regalo de la comunicación!  And what better gift in a time in which Spanish speakers account for 17 percent of the U.S. population?  As these Americans reach 52 million, statistics are revealing the growth of our youngest minority group is from birth, not immigration.

For as much as I have loved learning Spanish, I will be honest and say, I know that it remains my second language, for I have yet to master it, despite stretching to offer an online Spanish class on www.ooVoo.com and recording myself reading Spanish and bilingual books for children on my radio show on http://www.blogtalkradio.com/claudiamossshow.  Yes, I realize I could relocate to one of the states the NBC Latino website denotes as the places where “two-thirds of Latinos live…California, Texas, Florida, New York and Illinois.”  

Another way to master the language is to possibly follow the advice of a Latina hotel worker, whom I chatted up after one of my College Board workshops during my consultant days.  With the sweetest smile, she advised me: “Get yourself a Latino boyfriend, and you will be fluent in no time!”  Not an inconceivable notion, except, one, I had to edit her directive to include a Latina lesbiana to lend romance, love, flavor and spice to my language mastery, and two, my beloved cousin, who married a Spanish-speaking Puerto Rican, is yet a non-Spanish speaker, so…..

Quien sabe?

I’m charmed to continue living and relishing life and loving the flavor of Spanish in my mouth and at my fingertips.  And who knows?  One day I may look up and she’ll be standing there, smiling and singing, “Hola, Claudia!  ¿Dónde has estado toda mi vida?  ¡Qué guapa eres!  Únanse a mí para comida cubana y buena conversación, mi amorcita!”

--- Claudia Moss

Twitter: @TheLadySiren

Author of  IF YOU LOVE ME, COME: a novel
(In the USA: Amazon Paperback and Kindle)

For UK purchases: Amazon Paperback and Kindle

From Amazon Kindle in the USA and the UK

From Amazon Kindle in the USA and the UK

Monday, February 18, 2013

The Little Bubble Co. Review

In a previous post, I promised to share a product that I absolutely love and I said that it smelled good enough to eat, but it's definitely not edible. So please don't eat it or drink it  :-)

Here it is! It's a great line of products from The Little Bubble Co. They make these wonderful bath and shower gels that come in a variety of fragrances like: Coconut Creme, Strawberry Sundae, and Vanilla Biscuit. As you can see, I've been dipping into each variety, so the bottles aren't completely full. But fear not...when you purchase them they are full to the top :-)

Let me give you a bit of a backstory. Well, I was out one Saturday with Brit Boy and we were doing some shopping at Boots pharmacy. I was out of shower gel, so I headed over to the bath aisle of the shop. I usually use a few of the same brands all the time, but on this day something else caught my eye. I was instantly pulled in by the names of the different varieties.

I picked up the Vanilla Biscuit variety and took a sniff of the product. Wow! When I smelled it I was sold on the spot, so I decided to buy it and give it a try. Well, when I used it I knew that I had made an excellent purchase.

The gel lathers very well and gives a good fresh feeling of cleanliness. And the smell is truly divine! One day after I had used it, Brit Boy thought that I had been baking cookies or something because it smells so good :-) The smell reminds you of childhood...of warm vanilla cookies right out of the oven. At this point, I want to do a bit of transatlantic clarification for my readers outside of the UK. What we call a cookie back home in the USA is called a biscuit over here in the UK. But hey, whether you call it a cookie or a biscuit...it's all the same yumminess to me! ;-)

From the bottle: ' Why does the scent of vanilla fill me with childhood memories?'

After I tried out the Vanilla Biscuit gel, I was so in love with it that I decided to contact the company and tell them how much I loved it. They were so kind and gracious and sent me a couple of the other varieties to try out. So over the past several days I've been trying out the Coconut Creme and Strawberry Sundae varieties and I love them too.

From the bottle: ' The strawberry and the buttercup met in the garden and fell in love. That's sweet.'

All of the varieties that I have tried smell wonderful and work great! The Little Bubble Co. got the smell just right! I will say that the Vanilla Biscuit is my absolute favorite. The gels can be used in the bath or in the shower. I've only tried them in the shower, but then I'm more of a shower girl. The gels are long-lasting too...a little goes a long way, so they are very economical.

When I bought my first bottle it cost me only £2.49 British pounds/$3.86 US dollars for a 500ml/16.9 fl oz. bottle.

From the bottle: ' Take half a coconut and make sail on a lime blue sea.'

I love that the bottles are recyclable and The Little Bubble Co. incorporates this into their bottle design. On the front of the three bottles that I have there are phrases like:

'Recycle me and I may come back as your pillow'
'Recycle me and I may come back as a yoghurt tub'
'Recycle me and I may come back as a lunch box'

I like that they have fun with it and make you think about the good that can come out of recycling.

Also, here are some other facts about the bath and shower gels:
  • The fragrance is allergen free
  • The products are not tested on animals
  • And as they say on the bottle: 'Say hurray for NO PARABENS'
The Little Bubble Co. bath & shower gels are currently only available in the UK, but the company says that they are open to the possibility of expansion. I'll tell you this, they have a loyal customer in me because I simply love this product. It's been a long time since I found a product that I love so much, so I wanted to share my thoughts with you my dear readers :-) If you get the chance, please try the gels out...they're fab!

Check them out at their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/TheLittleBubbleCo or at your local retailer if you're in the UK.

I also want to thank Clare at The Little Bubble Co. for sending me some of the other products to try. I appreciate it so much!

*Disclosure: I bought one bottle and was sent two others in exchange for my review. However, as always, views are completely my own.

Saturday, February 09, 2013

GoAbroad Top Expat Bloggers

Hello there!

So, I promised to come back and tell you about an honor that I have received. Here it is! I have been featured in the list of Top Expat Bloggers for GoAbroad.com!!! Please click here to read the article. And please check out all of the other bloggers there. They are a wonderful group!

I was SO excited to receive the email from them a couple of weeks ago when they notified me of my inclusion. I was totally surprised, grateful, and humbled about being included. I'm really honored to be included in this list because I had no idea that an organization like GoAbroad even knew my blog existed.  I guess it's true that you never know who is watching :-)

GoAbroad is a great resource for anyone who is interested in travel, especially those who want to study or volunteer abroad. It's a wonderful directory of information about: studying abroad, internships abroad, volunteering abroad, and teaching opportunities. I love that they share first-hand knowledge of others who may have already experienced time abroad alongside others who are just beginning their journeys.

They do such good work, so that's why I'm so honored to have any kind of connection with an organization which is doing so much good. They are opening peoples' minds, especially young minds to the possibilities of learning about a new culture.

I know that for me, this experience of living abroad for nearly seven years has been a worthwhile one. I'll admit, some days have been lousy just because it was a lousy day, but the great majority of my days here have been truly intriguing. I wouldn't trade this experience for sure!

So if you or anyone that you know would like to learn more about anything along these lines, please check out their site! :-)

Thursday, February 07, 2013

Super Bowl and Upcoming Posts

I know that I'm late, but as a recap of sorts from my previous post about the Super Bowl...I loved it! Jennifer Hudson and the children from Sandy Hook singing together really moved me. It was so beautiful. Also, Alicia Keys sang the Star Spangled Banner beautifully. And Beyonce did a wonderful job...I especially loved it when she reunited with Destiny's Child onstage! And hey the football wasn't bad either ;-) LOL.

I'm right in the middle of my research for three papers that I have to write for school, so I'm not able to do a decent post today. But please come back in a few days because I have some excellent news to share about an honor that I received :-) Also, I have this awesome product that I want to share with you that I recently discovered. It's something that smells good enough to eat, but it's definitely not edible.

I hope that you'll visit again! Have a great day!