Mi Profesora de Espaņol | Mexico | Living in Mexico

Mi Profesora de Español

The first time I visited San Miguel, I took a two-week immersion course in conversational Spanish. Upon graduation, I found that couldn't even understand three-year-olds. It was then I realized that if I was going to become fluent, I would have to sign up for the long haul.

Two years later, I met my friend Michele who was in fact, quite fluent. I asked her how she did it. She said that she had been living in Mexico now for twelve years, and that every week, she took a one-hour Spanish lesson—even to this day.

This was an epiphany. I didn't have to be in any hurry. I was going to be living in Mexico for a long time. Learning Spanish didn't need to be a goal; it could be an ongoing part of life.

So I began taking lessons for one hour a week, and today I can get along in Spanish reasonably well, although I would hardly call myself fluent yet.

One of my Spanish teachers was the unforgettable Cristina.

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At first sight, Cristina frightened me. Her stern expression, her rigid posture, her no-nonsense straw hat squarely jammed on her head, she reminded me of a drill sargeant.

She asked me to say a few words in Spanish. "Hable algo en español." Nervously, I mumbled something.

She said, "You have bad habits! You must not study Spanish on your own. You need a teacher to correct you!"

Sheesh. I could see that I wasn't going to be allowed to slide. But progress up to then had been slow. I figured maybe she was just what I needed.

Over some weeks we ground through verb conjugations and struggled with the difference between por and para. Cristina was tough, but I grew to enjoy her visits. I became more relaxed in her company, and often talked with her about cultural differences between our countries and current events in Mexico.

December 12, Guadalupe Day was approaching and during one lesson I chose that subject for discussion.

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Knowing I was dealing with a liberal, educated person, I began with the notion that Guadalupe was derived from the native goddess Tonantzin.

Cristina replied, "Well, if you wanna believe that..."

Oops.

Being no fool, I quickly covered by asking her, "Christina, would you please tell me the story of the Virgin of Guadalupe?"

She spent the next ten minutes reciting the story of the Virgin appearing to the peasant Juan Diego Cuauhtlatoazin, of how the bishop wouldn't believe his story, of how Guadalupe showed him bushes bearing roses of Seville (impossible in Mexico in 1531) which he gathered in his cloak to show the bishop, and the miracle of the image of the Virgin appearing on the inside of Juan Diego's cloak, which today hangs in the cathedral in Mexico City.

As Cristina's story drew to a close, tears were streaming down her face. I was so moved. I'd never been in the presence of so profound an expression of faith.

Cristina taught me more than just Spanish. She introduced me to the powerful beliefs of many of, maybe most of the Mexican people. I may not share their faith. But thanks to her, I now see that I have to understand and respect the power of their faith or I won't really know Mexico.

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