Originally published on PXP
I fell into a minor panic when I stepped into the lobby of Repertorio Español.
Why? I can’t really speak Spanish.
Yes, I’m Latina. And yes, I oftentimes think in Spanish and can fully understand the language when others are speaking it. However, when it comes to speaking it myself, I just absolutely freeze up. I always have to pause too long to think before I speak – long enough that others might think I didn’t hear them. When I finally do manage to get the words out, I think I end up sounding like a gringa.
I imagine it’s my own self-doubt that does me in. Here it was again, creeping up on me as I stepped up to the Box Office. Three staff members were chatting along in Spanish. I smiled; one of them said hello and asked how I was. Though they’d asked in Spanish, I responded in English. And there it was – the slight facial shift, the apologetic smile on their face. They then seamlessly switched over to English, scanning my ticket and giving me directions into the theater. All the while, I mentally berated myself for not being able to carry the conversation in Spanish.
While this is a personal conflict I always deal with, it’s refreshing that it doesn’t actually matter at Repertorio Español. Nobody is going to make you feel bad or excluded for not being able to speak Spanish. In fact, I found myself getting over my feeling of Latino-cultural-failure pretty quickly, precisely because of all the efforts taken to make every audience member feel comfortable. The staff are totally bilingual, and each audience seat has a little screen in front of it where you can choose Spanish or English subtitles (or, you can opt for none!)
I ended up opting for none – again, I’ve never had difficulties actually understanding Spanish – but the fact that it was an option was comforting. I looked around the audience; most were Latinos, others weren’t, and some had turned their subtitles on for English. This was a relief and I felt a sudden wash of happiness to see Latinos, non-Latinos, and non-Spanish speakers all ready to enjoy a performance in a language that may or may not be their own. It also suddenly dawned on me that this would be my first time seeing a play in Spanish myself. With that, any remaining self-doubt fell away and was replaced by excitement. I was meant to be here just as much as anybody, Spanish-speaking or otherwise.
As the play began, I found myself at a heightened level of attention. It isn’t often that I’m listening along to Spanish for such a length of time, so each word felt like it carried more weight. I also felt connected to my culture’s language more than I have in a very long time. Maybe for that reason alone, this play affected me more deeply than I even had expected it to.
To be fair, though, the play itself was also heavy. The main character, Ramón, is a Marine who comes home from war after having obviously experienced some horrific things – probably more horrific than those of the average soldier. All the while, Ramón and his parents are also undocumented immigrants. The sacrifices of his service seem worthwhile then, as they would typically allow him to become a naturalized citizen.
It’s all a modern, very real take on what the American Dream is for many immigrants today – in order to achieve it, Ramón must go so far as to risk his life for the country he wants to call his own. Which is all fine I guess, albeit extreme. Except for when it really doesn’t go as planned.
The play is titled Punto Ciego (Blind Spot) for a reason. Ramón doesn’t know about something that is ultimately going to change his life, and his parents lives, forever. Of course, harsh reality comes swooping in and rears its ugly head for all of us to see. Everything that transpired was all equal parts frustrating and upsetting as it was unsurprising to me, as I know how immigrants are treated in this country. Ultimately, I felt that the play must really ring true for the many undocumented immigrants who are just trying navigate their way to the America dream, yet always find it just barely out of reach because of the endless hurdles they must face.
I finally left thinking that it felt so right that this play was performed in Spanish. If there’s anything Latinos can claim wholeheartedly in America, it would at least be our language.
(Which is all the more reason I have to practice more. I’m getting there, I promise!)