A Language Not Always Universal

Since I first heard this Junot Diaz quote I’ve been intrigued:

“Motherfuckers will read a book that’s 1/3 elvish, but put two sentences in Spanish and White people think we’re taking over.” – Junot Diaz

For some of us, our language is universal. For others, it’s not. Dig it. My English is not universal. My use of Spanglish—which is more or less a given for everyone in the western states is not universal. But I speak it and people respond. I write it and people respond. How would I know that at the beginning of the 21st century one might not know what an abuelo is? Or a chola? Or a Tim Burton-esque landscape? Or an E-ticket ride.  Or who X was/is.

And there are actions that to me, speak universally but perhaps not to others. Of course, in my suburban world of Whittier the grandmothers ply you with drinks even though you’re underage. It’s the 1970s after all. Of course, none of the alienated college bound Mexican kids actually speak Spanish. Of course the fat girls are just as sexual as the skinny girls (if not more so). Of course there’s white trash run amuck. I mean, has no one read their James Ellroy? Do I have to explain that reference too? The loitering of youth? The lunar landscape of suburban decay?

I don’t really think I’m being that obtuse.

How many books had I read before I’d ever been to New York? How many before I’d been to England? How many references slipped through the cracks of my befuddled West Coast mind? Did I need my subway rides explained? Did I need my classical references mapped out? Could I just take in as much as I could the first time around? Could I file away other parts for later?

I was willing to do the work to understand worlds different from my own. Sometimes I missed some things. Me in 6th grade: Wow. British people drink a lot of fucking tea. Even when they are talking animals. What’s up with that? I guess someday I’ll find out. And I did eventually. Even if I’m more of a coffee drinker. Or today’s bestsellers from young women who went to privileged colleges writing about their angst to mean something. Wow. I guess in some worlds people pay for your education and then you get to worry about what you mean to the universe instead of foraging for food (Lena Durham, I’m talking to you). But you know what? I give their worlds a fair shake even if they aren’t my worlds.

You don’t have to get my references. You don’t. You can explore. You can figure it out. But you don’t have to. But I’m not translating for you. You’re big kids now. You can do the work.


About Margaret Elysia Garcia

Margaret Elysia Garcia is the author of short story ebook collection Sad Girls and Other Stories, and the audiobook Mary of the Chance Encounters, and the co-founder and lead playwright of Las Pachucas, theatrical troupe. She teaches creative writing and theatre in a California state prison.
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