My family has a long history of language learning. My grandpa was quadrilingual, my mother learned French and Russian, and I’m working my way up to their level. I only have Spanish so far, but Letters requires an ancient language, and I’m planning to minor in Russian. Given my double major, I don’t have five hours a week to spend in intro classes, so I’m studying it on my own.
This isn’t as hard as it could be. My mom and grandpa were both Russian majors, and my grandpa actually taught Russian, so we have a bunch of education materials sitting around the house. I’m already familiar with the accent and I have somebody to practice with. But I’m not used to self-directed study: I spent eight years learning Spanish in a classroom, with neat charts and clear curricula. I’m still working out how to organize all the resources I have, let alone working on a coherent plan with them. For now, it’s half an hour of writing Cyrillic script and reading printed Cyrillic every day, listening to Russian music whenever possible, and fiddling around with various Russian learning programs. I’ll start working with the LLC after break is over, but right now I’ll be happy if I can just learn the difference between Ш and Щ.
I’ve been studying Spanish for eight years now, and every time I think I’m finally making progress, I realize in short order how little I really know. I can talk for 20 minutes on the differences between regions of the US, and then be reduced to pantomime because I forgot the word for “deer;” I still have trouble with por and para; and when I introduced myself to the Spanish Club this year, I said I was “embarazada” for embarrassed. Me sentía avergonzada, to be sure, but I definitely was not pregnant.
Spanish has a lot of these false cognates, which look like a familiar word and then betray you. When I need a word I don’t know, I often give a Latin-seeming word a Spanish accent or add an “acion” to the end, and call it a day. This has not served me well: bigotes are mustaches, not intolerant, enviar is to send letters, not to be jealous, and un perrito largo is a long puppy, not a large one. There are even more if you count the borrowings in American Spanish that would scandalize Academia Real. It’s commonly accepted in some parts of the US that “carpeta” is really a carpet, rather than a binder, and “actualmente,” which normally means “currently,” is taken at face value.
One of the good things about being on the AP track is the insane number of classes it let me skip in college. I’m a first-semester freshman and I came in with 36 credits; I’ll be done with my Gen Eds this year, and I got to jump ahead to junior-level Spanish classes. Spanish is one of my majors, and if it were all I studied, I could be done in two years. That’s great, because it lets me double-major with minimal stress, but it’s also terrifying, because it means studying abroad isn’t just a blip on the horizon. It’s a distinct event that has to be planned now. On my Spanish track, I’ll be able to take a semester abroad by Spring 2017. And since I’m a debater and competitions are only in the US, I’ll be too busy going to Nationals in junior and senior year to take a semester off.
I’m a planner, so I’m already looking at all the possible options for my semester. It has to be in a Spanish-speaking country that’s relatively cheap, and it can’t be one where the locals are likely to know English. Spain is right out; it’s got the Euro and tons of Europeans know English, plus I never learned to conjugate “vosotros.” My best option seemed to be an exchange program in Peru, until I ran into the OU in Puebla booth at the study abroad fair.
I’ve knocked OU’s foreign centers in the past; they’re an easy way to stick with OU students on OU property, learning from OU teachers in English, and not really connect with locals. I’ve talked with plenty of Arezzo alumni who don’t know a lick of Italian. But what drew me to Puebla is the homestay option. Most study abroad programs either leave housing arrangements up to the students or stick them in a dorm specific to foreigners, so that you live with and socialize with largely English speakers. But living with a local family gives you constant exposure to the language and culture. It’s a great way to pick up colloquialisms and truly connect with the country.
By now, there’s almost no point to writing about Trump’s stance on immigration. Everybody knows he hates Mexicans and thinks Syrian refugees are going to import ISIL to the US. But there’s another component, which is the history of American immigration. Trump’s claim of restoring America to its “Great” roots is part and parcel with his stance on foreigners.
Up until the 1950s, immigration to the US was seemingly written by the Trumps of its day. You could only get in if you were a WASP, a Black person shipped in as a slave, or within the racial and ethnic quotas for just about everyone else. Asians basically couldn’t immigrate for centuries; United States v. Bhaghat Singh Thind, in which an Indian sued the US for citizenship on the grounds that Indians were of the Aryan race, reached the Supreme Court. (He was ineligible.) Native Americans were neither recognized as sovereign nations nor American citizens. And during World War II, not only were Trump’s proposed Muslim internment camps made a reality for Japanese-Americans, but countless refugees were turned away because of their ethnicity.
Eastern Europeans and Jews, those most endangered by the war, were considered undesirables and few were allowed to immigrate. Desperate refugees did make their way to America without visas, but were largely turned away; the 908 Jews who tried to immigrate on the St Louis were treated as the illegal immigrants they technically were. They were returned to Europe and many died in the Holocaust, a fate that could have been avoided with a simple offer of asylum. Syrians and Iraqis are in the same boat today. They’re persecuted for their ethnicity at home and turned away because of it abroad. Shunning them can gain political points for a politician who conveniently ignores the needless deaths that result. And I, for one, think that to truly make America great, we have to break this chain of xenophobia.
Like the vast majority of Americans, I find that most of my heritage is tied up in food. My grandpa made a point of stocking Pilsners in his fridge, my great grandmother laced every dish she made with dill gravy, and every year we drove up to Iowa’s Czech Days to buy kolaches- or, if you’re a stickler for accuracy, koláče. At a recent family reunion, we decided to forgo the half day of labor that the recipe requires, so we ordered them in from a bakery billing itself as “The Kolache Factory.” We were in for a rude awakening.
The way my family makes kolaches involves cutting the dough out in squares and folding it closed around the filling, like an envelope; these kolaches looked like doughy Danishes. Our dough is light and potato-laced, but these were practically made of lead. And a Hudecek family kolach can only be filled with poppyseed, apricot, or prune, but these were filled with everything under the sun. If an alleged Czech pastry is filled with BBQ Beef, Jalapeno and cheddar, or “Philly Cheesesteak,” you can be pretty sure it wouldn’t be sold on the streets of Prague. And calling a pig in a blanket a kolach is just shoddy marketing.
An hour of frantic Googling turned my expectations upside down, though. It turned out to be a classic case of Texas Czech domination. The pigs in a blanket are a Texas-Czech invention called klobasnik, and the Bohemians who settled there make circular kolaches rather than my family’s Moravian folded ones. They’re both perfectly valid depending on which region of the country you’re in, and immigrants to different parts of the US further adapted them to match the resources they had available. It makes me wonder how many of the wars about “authentic” Mexican or Italian food are really comparing cuisines from different regions.