Last January I visited my family in south Texas, we had a chance to visit the local flea market, or more familiarly, la pulga. Here, one can find imported medicine from Mexico, children’s clothing. handmade jewelry, bootleg DVDs, and even exotic birds. La pulga always has a mixed bag of goods. It goes without mentioning that the food there is plentiful. Whether it’s a menudo kind of day, or the temptation for a fried spiral potato drenched in lime and chile is stronger, (okay, both) la pulga is the spot to be humble and buy some cheap stuff.
While the winter sun beamed on my neck, my sister, Jennifer, took her time looking at jewelry at one of the vendor tables. Personally, I have never been interested in jewelry beyond the studs on my ears. But as I let my gaze move along the necklaces, I wondered if I could get something with La Virgen de Guadalupe. Eyeing a black threaded necklace, Jennifer asked the woman behind the table, “¿Pueda cambiar el talismán de esta collar?” The woman handed us a bag full of charms representing various figures in Catholicism. After picking through the many crosses and portraits of Jesus, I found La Virgen. With a red threaded necklace in hand and La Virgen in the other, I asked the woman, “¿…y esta tambien?” My sister paid her and I put mine on immediately.
Beyond the religious sentiment La Virgen represents, I see her as a connection to my family and culture. To me, she represents feminine strength. Most of my life has been around women, and I have learned to embrace my own femininity. Being without family near for so long, I find myself slipping away, disengaged with that part of my life. She serves as reminder of who I am, and where I came from, keeping me grounded. And, sometimes, I feel like she protects me. So, I keep her with me everyday since that afternoon at la pulga.
Identity is something I have been actively exploring as an adult. As I become more self-aware and mindful, more and more facets of my identity are unraveled and revealed. Growing up white and gay in a predominately Catholic, Mexican-American community, I found it difficult to claim my own latinx identity. While Spanish was heard all around me, be it at school or the homes of my family, I did not engage in anything other than English. Sure, I had an ear for Spanish, but I carried so much embarrassment for not confidently owning my Spanish tongue. My family would always tease me as a child. “Mijito doesn’t like speaking Spanish, I don’t know why.” It would infuriate me even more as a teenager. By then, I had moved states away to Kansas City, a clean slate. As I got older, I realized I can still manage to stay connected to my past. Throughout high school, university, and the numerous service jobs I had, Spanish became a medium for exploration of my own linguistic identity.
Like La Virgen, Spanish has become another way to keep me connected to my roots.
So, what does any of this have to do with studying abroad in Argentina? Well, as I frantically get all of my objectives checked off before leaving the country for six weeks (hughhhhh), say my see-you -laters to my friends and coworkers, and prepare to be broke upon arrival back home (hhhnnuughhh), I am ready to explore my Spanish-speaking self. Away from the reality of work-sleep-work-sleep-work-sleep, I feel at ease. Through Argentina and her culture, I am ready to learn, make connections, and take in everything she has to offer.
Until then –
Robert Grigsby is a senior at the University of Missouri-Kansas City studying Spanish and Film Production. Robert will spend the summer term abroad at the Universidad de Belgrano with UMKC Spanish Program in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Student blog entries posted to the Roos Abroad Blog may not reflect the opinions and recommendations of UMKC Study Abroad and International Academic Programs. The blog is intended to give students a forum for free expression of thoughts and experiences abroad in a respectful space.