We’ll always have Puebla

It is Mother’s Day. Since 1911, the Mexican Mother’s Day falls on May 10 regardless of the day of the week. In the United States (and much of the world), Mother’s Day is the second Sunday in May. This second weekend in May is also the opening of fishing season in lake-spangled Minnesota, the land with the most boats per-capita, where many mothers feel abandoned by husbands and sons off pursuing walleyed pike, the state’s fish.

Mother’s Day misa or Mass in the Mexican congregation of Santo Niño Jesús, where I am a member, ends with music and a special blessing. Well-dressed women arrive with husbands and children in tow. Afterward, las madres gather for a group photo in front of the altar and the statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe. Then all adjourn downstairs for cake before going to their family celebrations.

My mother died 15 years ago but I offer a silent prayer of gratitude. My greetings for this day go to my daughter, who is a mother herself, and my wife, every bit as dedicated to being a grandmother as a mother. My mother, raised in an upper class household outside New York City, cheerfully accepted and surmounted the challenges of life on a small Minnesota farm. She died before I took up Spanish but I know she would have encouraged me. Encouraging others was one of her greatest virtues. She believed in possibilities. Seeing me take up a new language, she might have glimpsed herself at age 13, becoming fluent in French. I wish she were here to see her son’s late in life achievement.

It is 9:30 p.m. Central time, and 7:30 p.m. Pacific time. I punch a Los Angeles area number into my cellphone. A phone rings several times in Anaheim before I hear an unmistakable woman’s voice.

“Lupita!” I say.

“¡Ay! ¿Cómo estás?” she replies, her voice ringing with excitement, as if she has been waiting all day for my call. She recognizes my voice instantly, as I do hers.

We haven’t seen each other since 2012 but we stay in touch. Lupita is the woman whom I have adopted as my madrina or godmother insofar as I have one. Godparents play a formative role in the lives of Mexican children more so than with American children.

Her role as my padrina  began eight years ago when I boarded with her and Julián, (my adopted padrino) during my first Spanish immersion in Puebla, Mexico. She began drilling me in the pronunciation of accented words. Over the course of three years and five immersions, I lived in their home until it became my home away from home, and our relations deepened from acquaintances, to friends, to family.

“¿Cómo está tu nieta hermosa?” Immediately, she wants to know about my lovely granddaughter, a toddler, who has assumed great importance in our conversations. I tell her I just returned from visiting her and she is well and growing fast. Lupita keeps track of my family, asks after my wife, and after my other daughter, the actor in New York. I tell her my wife and I saw our daughter in an off-Broadway play in February. At our ages, (she is 85 and I am 71) our successor generations become important signs we haven’t lived in vain.

She says Julián just turned 90. He and Lupita, married at the ages of 23 and 16, and I remembered they were about to celebrate their 67th anniversary. At some point in their lives, their children took up residence in California and became naturalized U.S. citizens. I have never met their children – now grandparents as well – but I know about them just as Lupita knows about my daughters.

A year after I finished immersion classes, they sold their house in Puebla, and rented a smaller house in nearby Atlixco to spend summers near her sister. I saw them there in 2012 at a reunion she and friends arranged for me, and to meet my wife. Travel and two residences took energy and last winter they gave up the house in Atlixco. Now they travel only for shorter visits with her sisters and friends.

Our charla or conversation rambles on with small talk. Will they return to Mexico this summer, I ask. She says yes, in July. Am I returning to Mexico? I say yes, but not until January. I plan to spend much of the winter teaching English in Oaxaca. Unfortunately, we will miss each other, again.

The cellphone distorts her voice now and then, and I can’t understand everything she says but no importa. It is enough that we reconnect to fan the embers of friendship and rekindle familial connections.

We last talked in November. She called from Atlixco while I waited for a friend outside Oaxaca’s Iglesia Santo Domingo. She had missed me when I was in Puebla, and Atlixco is a six-hour bus ride from Oaxaca. I couldn’t travel there before they return to Anaheim. ¡Qué lástima! What a shame. Our conversation flows on for a while as I pace the sunny plaza in front of the exquisite Baroque church.

Beside board and friendship, I owe much of my cultural education to Lupita and Julián, whose off-hand examples taught me mexicanidad or Mexicaness – the daily courtesies, gestures, and phrases that define Mexicans. It was a labor of love on their part, the work of godparents or padrinos.

As our November conversation ended, she switched to English to say – unmistakably – ‘We love you.’ I replied that I loved them too. Then she said, ‘hasta luego,’ or see you later but never ‘good bye.’ After the call, I stood in the empty plaza feeling blessed and wiped my eyes.

Given our ages, limited opportunities, and the miles between, I doubt we will see each other again (but I’ve made that mistake before). We are both old enough to accept this reality and cherish the memories and limited contact. For that reason, there is no need to talk about it. Love never dies.

Our Mother’s Day call ends, as they always do, with ‘hasta luego, ten cuidado,’ see you later and take care. It is still too soon in life to say ‘good bye.’

The call reminds me how human love, intimacy, and friendship are realities occupying places of their own. No one will ever replace my mother in my memory or usurp my love for her. However, the heart is a great continent with territory enough for others to reside there in a community of affection. Lupita and Julián have acreage in my heart. We may never see each other again but, to rephrase a line from Casablanca, ‘We’ll always have Puebla.’

The Virgin of Guadalupe – God’s feminine face

A hint of incense, with its sweet scent of mystery and sanctity, hung in the air of the semi-dark church.  Several hundred Mexican immigrants and a few Anglos filled the pews and more stood along the walls.  On a table beneath the rood beam, twinkling lights surrounded the statue of a woman  wearing a blue cloak with stars; her tranquil, brown face is turned aside, as if watching the boys at her feet, dressed in white ‘campesino‘ garb, and little girls with braids and long skirts, singing Spanish carols.  Happy parents watch, pleased they are passing their culture to the next generation.

It’s December 11, 10:30 p.m. and, to the sound of guitar music, the crucifer, the thurifer, the acolytes, the priest, and then the bishop walk up the center aisle to the sanctuary.  This is my church, El  Santo Nino Jesus, in Saint Paul, Minnesota, and as a new member, and this is my first experience with the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  And it has changed my perspective.

If you’re not a Mexican, you may find the rest of this post exotic, but stick with me.  And if you are Mexican, I hope I don’t give offense if I get this wrong.  Believing in the Virgin of Guadalupe goes to the heart of cultural differences between Mexican and North American spirituality.  My friends in Mexico and Minnesota believe so strongly in her existence and power I can’t dismiss it as unreal.  Believing in Guadalupe is a part of who they are, and a part of our friends.  Something I accept even if I don’t  understand it completely.

Nothing is as Mexican as the Virgin of Guadalupe.  She is the unifying figure for Mexicans of all classes and ethnicities.  As Carlos Fuentes remarked: “You cannot truly be considered a Mexican unless you believe in the Virgin of Guadalupe.”  But who is she?  And what does it mean to believe in her?  And how do I understand her when I didn’t grow up under the Virgin’s guidance?

I grew up with the Virgin Mary as a figure from the Christmas Gospels, in Christmas pageants, carols, and creches. She seems so remote, so unnaturally pure as to be unreal.  I thought of her as the greatest of saints, the “Mother of God,” but abstractly as the name of a holy person along with Peter and Paul, Luke and Matthew.  Like them, she lived in a distant past and wasn’t a presence in the here and now.   That’s how I thought until I went to Mexico where she seems to be a fact of life.

So who is she?  What is my relationship to her – whoever she is?  Indisputable information about the Virgin of Guadalupe is hard to come by.  What there is, is subject to varied interpretations and disputes.  As the story goes, she appeared to an indigenous peasant named Juan Diego a decade after the Spanish conquista on the hilltop of Tepeyac, a place where the Aztecs had worshipped Tonanzintla, the mother of their gods.  The Virgin appeared with a brown face and spoke in Nahuatl, the indigenous tongue.  The Aztecs quickly embraced her and millions converted to Catholicism within a decade, despite the doubts of the bishop.  In time, the Church accepted the apparition as real and built a church on the site.  It is now the most visited shrine in Mexico.  December 12 is her feast day in the Mexican calendar.

I’ve never seen an apparition or met anyone who has, but I image it is intensely personal and makes a powerful impact on the person who has it.  But is it real?  Or is it a form of dreaming or hallucination or delusion?  For the millions who didn’t witness the apparition, the story of it rang true and they converted because of it.  A  woman, the Mother of God, like their Aztec mother of the gods, had appeared where they used to worship.  The effect was profound.

She was and remains a figure for all Mexicans.  When Padre Miguel Hidalgo raised the flag of Independence in 1810, he and his followers shouted: “Long live our Holy Mother the Virgin of Guadalupe, Death to bad government!”  Painting her image on their banners, the army of peasants and creoles fought and died by the thousands until Mexico achieved its independence in 1821.  Afterward, the victors gave thanks for Guadalupe’s intercessions as the source of their victory.  After a century of Independence, internal struggles, and dictatorship, Mexico erupted in Revolution.  The leaders had no consensus: Liberalism, monarchism, socialism, constitutionalism, and they led the country in different directions. Emiliano Zapata led his followers into battle under the banner of Guadalupe.  In 1995, the Zapatista Liberation Army of Chiapas named their ‘mobile city’ after Guadalupe. For a century, through good times and bad, the Virgin has been the unifying symbol, the rubber band, that binds together the disparate classes, ethnicities, political parties, and alliances that make up modern Mexico.   Unlike politicians, she is above criticism or doubt.

Everywhere I go in Mexico, Guadalupe looks upon me from posters, banners, and statues in store windows.  Men and women wear her medallions; she is silk-screened onto T-shirts, and painted onto walls.  Restaurants and businesses display posters or images of her.   Pedestrians pause at small shrines on the sidewalk to pray before going to work.  Like a truly protective mother, she is a silent presence watching over her ‘children’ in Mexico.  Guadalupe is syncretistic but there is substance as well.  The Biblical Mary was a decisive and powerful figure and not a passive vessel of popular piety.  Being pregnant out-of-wedlock in Judea would have brought about Mary’s death by stoning (had not Joseph agreed to marry her).  The “Magnificat” by itself is a  radical vision of social justice (as yet unrealized) that Jesus went on to proclaim as ‘good news.’  After giving birth, Mary  is a silent presence except at a wedding in Cana; a witness to the crucifixion and resurrection.

But all this is history and theology.  The facts are few and conjectural.  Whether Mary is a real figure in history, or whether Mary’s apparition as Guadalupe happened or not; the impact on Mexico and Mexicans is real and profound and can’t be ignored when learning to understand Mexican culture.

I was struck by Guadalupe’s power, if that’s what it is, on the day we installed her statue in the chapel at Santo Nino.  Someone donated the statue anonymously (anonymous donations are very Mexican).  Two women carried her statue forward and put it on a corner of the altar.  The priest blessed it with incense and holy water.  And, as the soloist sing “Ave Maria,” the women carried the statue to its place in the chapel.  I stood with my friends during the installation, seeing solemn, brown faces – men’s and women’s – wet with tears.  Their connection was deep, personal, and emotional; and I knew it was something outside my ability to experience.

Every Sunday, Angeles or other women from Santo Nino place fresh flowers before Guadalupe’s statue.  They place the flowers carefully, tenderly, and then stand back, offering prayers.  Looking on, I see their devotions are intimately personal, the silent or whispered conversations from their hearts between the women and Guadalupe.

Why do modern people – Mexicans or North Americans – believe in an apparition that happened nearly 500 years ago, if it happened at all?  Why do they believe in an apparition in which Mary returns as an indigenous woman?  Almost any other appearance would be treated like believing in UFO abdunctions, Big Foot sightings, or extra terrestrial origins of the pyramids.  Where’s the proof?

Those questions lead me to wonder about some sacred North American beliefs.  Why do we believe the “invisible hand” of the free market brings about the greatest good for the greatest number when the evidence is contrary?  And why do we still pay lip service if not outright devotion to the idea that “heaven” has a special mission, a “manifest destiny,” for the United States in world affairs not given to any other nation?  Why do we believe that?  It takes a large dose of hubris to believe in manifest destiny or American exceptionalism, and a certain moral blindness to believe in the goodness of the free market despite economic facts.  The free market and manifest destiny are abstract ideas but we accept them.  It’s even easier to believe in Guadalupe.

The Virgin of Guadalupe is a real and powerful force in Mexican life.  Millions ask her to pray with them and for them; they seek her blessing, protection, and guidance in all manner of causes and situations.  When their prayers are answered (and I believe some prayers are answered), or they receive a miracle, they gratefully undertake works of mercy, compassion, and charity.   I can’t think of many individuals (real or imaginary) who have inspired and commanded such devotion over so long a time.

Guadalupe wasn’t part of my spiritual formation in Minnesota.  I didn’t grow up with her watching over me from a wall in my home, in my church, or from a street corner shrine.  She didn’t exist in my world until middle-age and I find it impossible to make an emotional connection to her the way that “Amazing Grace” or other hymns give me a clutch in my throat.  Guadalupe for my friends and “Amazing Grace” for me have been indelible parts of our respective spiritual lives.  Memory is a part of our identity.

“What does the Virgin of Guadalupe mean to you?” I asked my friend, Maria, a woman of forty, a mother, and bookkeeper.

“She’s my spiritual mother,” Maria said.  “She’s the feminine face of God.”

Yes, now I understand.  Jesus taught that when we feed and clothe the poor, or heal the sick, or visit the prisoners, we are doing these things to him as well.   And from that, we are taught to seek the face of Jesus in the people around us or to be his face to others.  Seeing Guadalupe as the feminine face of God makes sense.

Tonight we will celebrate the Feast of Our Lady of Guadalupe.  I’ll be there as the music swells, the priest and bishop elevate the bread and wine in the Eucharist.  I’ll be in line with the others, filing forward  to receive the Body and Blood of Christ.  And then I’ll pause before the Virgin’s statue to say a prayer.  After the communion, the Aztec dancers will file in, their feathered headdresses waving, the shells tied to their ankles rattling softly.  While the drummers pound a hypnotic rhythm, the dancers will sway and dip before the statue, their bare feet flashing and the shells rattling.

And after the dancers, the mariachi, six men in tight pants and short jackets adorned with silver conchos and buttons.  They will stand before the statue with guitars, violin, and trumpets to play and sing “Las Mananitas,” a traditional song for birthdays.  We will stand and sing with them as the last of the incense drifts over us and the music fills us with the joy of celebrating the day of our spiritual mother, the Virgin of Guadalupe, the feminine face of God.

Next post: La Navidad in Oaxaca – las posadas, calendas, and fireworks

Chance encounters, improv Spanish

OAXACA,Mexico

Two college-age women approached me today near Oaxaca’s Santo Domingo.

“May we sing a song to you?” they asked. One was short, with braces, and dark hair; the other was taller, fairer, with curls.

“Why?” I asked, surprised at the request.

“We just want to make you happy,” the one with braces said.

“Make me happy for a donation?” I replied.

“Only if you want to,” the other said.

“Okay,” I said. “Please sing ‘Las Mananitas,” a traditional birthday and celebration song. They cleared their throats and sang reasonably well. After that, we talked for a moment and I learned they were art students. One studied drawing, the other painting. I gave them a few pesos, and the one with dark hair asked if I would like to hear “Cancion de Oaxaca.” I agreed, and she sang it in Zapoteco, the indigenous language. Then we wished each other “buena suerte,” or good luck.

How do you feel about chance encounters with strangers? Do you draw back, or lean in?

This chance encounter was utterly spontaneous and its outcome depended entirely on my response to their question. Although I’m long out of Spanish classes, this is still part of an on-going immersion process. Each encounter opens up an opportunity to use the language in a new way, in a different context, and with someone holding another point of view. I think of it as leaving the greenhouse of carefully cultivated classroom lessons and taking root in the soil of the street.

Only an hour earlier, I stopped in Oaxaca’s Zocalo, the normally placid and magnificent square between the cathedral and the government offices. But it wasn’t tranquil today. Tarps shaded much of it, here and there were pop-up tents where activists slept. Banners bore faces of adult protestors in detention, words denounced oppression by the state government. Other banners decried the disappearance of 43 students, along with a makeshift memorial of candles and a few wilting flowers.

Stopping at a table, I asked the three young women about the cause they were promoting. They laughed nervously as they talked. Their table had cans for donatons to the families of the students who disappeared. Each young woman was studying to be a teacher, one of Mexico’s best-paying opportunities for youths from poor villages, and they came from such places. The brutal loss of 43 students like themselves made them edgy and I heard tension in their voices. Although friendly, I felt their underlying anxiety from knowing it could happen to them.

“What are you doing in Oaxaca? one asked.

I told them I was teaching English in Tlacochuhuaya, another poor town. They smiled. I put 10 pesos in their donation box, and moved on.

Such moments come by chance, but they come if we look for them. Four years ago, on my way to Cuetzalan, I shared a bus seat with a campesino, a man of the country. In a jean jacket and cap, he might almost pass for a Minnesota farmer. Pedro and I began a conversation, and I asked him about the crops growing in the fields along the highway. “You know agriculture?” he asked. I said I grew up on a farm and knew agriculture.

Very quickly, our conversation and relationship changed. Within moments, we were deeply engaged in a conversation about the technicalities of agriculture in Mexico and Minnesota. The questions and answers flew quickly, some of them I didn’t understand at first, nor know how to answer. But we talked and talked for two hours until he got up to get out at the town of Libres.

As he prepared to leave, he said: “My family is having a fiesta in three weeks, I’d like you to come.”
His invitation caught me off guard. For a moment I thought I’d misunderstood him. “It’s an invitation?” I asked, to be sure.

“Si, una invitation.”

Joining his family would be interesting and I was filled with many emotions: pride, joy, and excitement that I could establish rapport to this extent. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. “I would love to meet your family, and you are very kind to ask me,” I said before I told him I couldn’t go because I had to return to the U.S. in a week. “I’m sorry.”

He looked down for a moment and then shrugged the way you do when you can’t change something. “Well, next time,” he said as he got off the bus.

What to make of these encounters? I’ve had lots of them in the last seven years. What do they add up to?

Experience. These encounters are what classroom lessons prepare us to. Classrooms are the beginning, not the end. Encounters are reality, this is language in context, language in use, language with muscles, and flaws, and surprising turns. It helps to think of these moments as “improv theater.” We just make it up as we go along. And in the moment, we are both the actor and the audience. This is where we build our confidence; confidence based on navigating social moments. It’s confidence honed by speaking with people without preparation in the topic. It’s confidence strengthened by straining to understand people whose articulation, or grammar, or syntax is out of whack, partial, imperfect. It’s real speech by real people leading real lives.
How do we do this?

First, let’s step away from our comfort zone in the hotel, the cafe, and the tourist shop where the conversation is predictable, limited, and the environment is familiar.

Second, let’s seek new territory. Look for an activity that piques our curiosity, or is new. Ask a someone an open-ended question to initiate a conversation. We aren’t looking for immediate information, like the location of the bathroom. Our question is intended to elicit an opinion, a point of view, something we and the other can share, if only for a moment. And we might ask the other person something about themselves. It’s that simple.

Third, let’s be present in the moment. Give the other person our full attention, listen closely, following up with another question if we can. Most of us are flattered by the attention of others. We are paying a compliment by being fully present to them. And they will reciprocate.

These are the steps I followed in each of the encounters above. In the case of Pedro, through an extended conversation, I made a friendship, however fleeting. In many other cases, I’ve encountered the same persons a year or two later and they have remembered our meeting. In one case a man recognized me before I noticed him.

This is immersion 2.0, the on-going learning, polishing, and perfecting of our Spanish.

Here’s your assignment. If you’re traveling, step away the hotel, cafe, or shop and look for a situation, a place, an activity where there’s an opportunity for an unexpected encounter. And if you’re not traveling, why not take a trip to the nearest Mexican grocery, mercado, or restaurant and use your language there. It’s improv and no one has ever died from doing this. And in the process, you might just receive the gift of friendship.

Next: el Dia de los Muertos

Immersion: Intensity, density, propensity

CUETZALAN, Puebla

A few days ago I shared a cafe table with an American couple.  We’d come in out of the rain to eat an early breakfast.  Middle-aged, they live in Mexico City and teach in an American school.   We chatted in English because it was easier for them.  Although they have an apartment in Mexico City, and lived there a year and a half, they have only enough Spanish to get by meeting basic needs.  They said they hoped someday to learn more Spanish to better experience Mexico.

So, is getting by enough?  Will getting by give us the level of travel or living satisfaction we want?

I started learning Spanish with a goal of “getting by” to meet basic needs as a traveler.  That was before I ever spent time in Mexico.  But after I two weeks in Mexico, I realized “getting by” wasn’t enough.

Well, don’t we want it all, want it now, and want it to come easily?  And the next logical questions is: What’s the fastest way to embed Spanish?  It’s a good question.  I’ve asked it often.  But in hindsight, do we want to learn Spanish the fastest way or learn with the deepest penetration?

I believe the fastest way won’t embed it in a way we can call on it after an absence of use.  It will be rest in our short-term memory, and soon forgotten, like the items on last week’s grocery list.  And when we go to use quickie Spanish after a lapse, it won’t be there.  Language penetration is essential.

Immersion experiences work with three critical and related aspects: Intensity, density, and propensity.  The question you and I are asking is how to reach the point at which Spanish becomes almost if not entirely automatic; we don’t have to think about it to speak it.

As my mother (a French-speaker) used to say, “Anything worth doing, is worth doing well.”  So our first question must be this: Is learning Spanish worth doing?  If our answer is “Yes,” then it’s worth doing well.

Intensity:  Classroom lessons – particularly in an individual class or tutorial – can provide intense experiences.  It’s just us and the teacher.  There is time to form a sympathetic friendship that furthers mastery of the subjunctive, the conditional, and the other grammar forms essential to speaking the language correctly.  There is time to ask questions whenever we want, and ask why Spanish works the way it does; to grasp the cultural mentality of the tongue, and better understand how to use Spanish effectively.

At the same time, we can help our “profesora” work with the  learning methods that are most effective for us.  Writing stories worked well for me.  I wrote the kind of short stories I might tell at a party as a vehicle to practice thinking in Spanish, and putting the vocabulary and grammar into something of a realistic context.

If writing is useful for you, consider writing stories using the parts of grammar or vocabulary you find most difficult.  Writing is thinking on paper, and from our stories, the teacher can map the waay we think in Spanish.  My teacher pointed out I couldn’t just substitute Spanish words for English without also considering the differences in syntax or structure of thinking.  Ah!  La mentalidad!  Besides seeing the structure of our thoughts, our writing reveals  persist weak spots or recurrent errors that need attention.

Four hours of class a day, five days a week, for two weeks, is more class time than in a college semester.  And it’s better.  We aren’t sharing the teacher’s attention with 15 other students.  We can establish close, personal rapport that is at the heart of intensity.  And if we fall temporarily in love with our teacher, so much the better, because the teacher’s affirmation, not correction, is an act of love essential to effective learning.

An intense, one-on-one learning course may well compress a semester of college learning into a week.  This will accelerate our learning.  It’s an opportunity to harness our passion to learn, unleash our pent-up energy, and sharpen our focus so there’s nothing else in our life at the moment.  Intensity is a form of power; like sex, it’s vital energy.

Density refers to the number or frequency of encounters in our new language within a given time.  Think of the density of experiences as something nourishing, enduring in our memory as raw material for other experiences.  Many immersion programs send us into the city with a conversation guide to practice using the language we are learning in everyday circumstances.  We are learning to use the language with people who may not speak grammatically, articulate clearly, and use slang or jargon not found in classes.

These lessons happen in a less controlled environment than a classroom.  We may (and maybe should) encounter situations spontaneously, unscripted and unforeseen.  This is a potentially frightening thought.  But in these moments, we may learn the most about the language we are pursuing.  We may surprise ourselves – as I did above with the English interview – and take from it a sense of confidence we didn’t have before.  It is true we learn more from our failures than our successes.  Spontaneous conversations are where we test our mettle and gain confidence.

What are we made of?  What lessons will we learn from strangers?  What will they think of us?  We don’t want to look stupid so it’s tempting to say nothing, or pretend we don’t understand than risk putting our foot into it.  How can we overcome our fear of making mistakes in front of others?

The only way I know of overcoming my mistakes is by making mistakes and learning from them.   The density of immersion experiences will get us over our fears faster than any classroom.  Our out of class experience will make the difference between plants able to live only in a greenhouse (the classroom), and those that endure wind, rain, and light frost.

Propensity is a natural inclination or proclivity of our own.  It’s part of who we are, and immersion helps us acquire a language in a way that best fits our style of learning and manner of expression.  Think of it as having your suit tailed to fit and complement you.  It comes through interaction with others.

If we’re already inclined to learn Spanish at mid-life, what kind of investment of time (if not money) are we willing to make?  How much satisfaction do we want from travel, volunteering, or simply learning for its own sake?   If we can define what satisfaction looks like, I’m willing to bet we won’t settle for simply “getting by.”  Go ahead, make the investment of time, if not money, to do it right.

Don’t believe what everybody says.

Conventional wisdom says mature, middle-aged adults are too old to learn a second language. Such wisdom goes on to say only children and youths possess the mental flexibility to become fluent. I used to believe it until I tried it, and then discovered that conventional wisdom is wrong.

Experience taught me that, as mature adults, you and I have everything we need to learn and become fluent in another language. You can do it – “Sí se puede.” I started Spanish at the age of 64 and I’m now fluent. I want to share what I’ve learned, hear about your experiences and together wrestle with your questions.

Learning is as much emotional as mental; it’s falling in love, and who doesn’t want to do that? Love is married to desire. And don’t you secretly desire, or dream of speaking another language? Do you wonder if you’re able to learn it? Or do you think it’s too late for that? If you heart wants to learn, listen to it and ignore what your head says about conventional wisdom. Follow your heart. As they say in Mexico, “Querer es poder,” or “To want is to be able to;” it’s a way of saying, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

If you want to learn a language, and believe you can, this column is for you. Let’s take the journey together .