En Español: Chronicle of a bilingual adventure

Argentine filmmaker Nicolás Giussani learned English alongside his young daughter, Nina. — photo courtesy of Nicolás Giussani

Crónica de una aventura bilingüe

Estoy sentado en el pasto en el Old Capitol. Toca The Cookers en el Festival de Jazz. Estamos despidiendo a nuestros amigos Alba y Carlo, que se van a Colombia. Kelsi me ofrece escribir para la revista, Little Village. Pienso que es una broma, soy el único que no soy escritor de todo el grupo, pero como estoy un poco borracho le digo que sí. Nina duerme a upa de su mamá.

* * *

Aterrizamos en Cedar Rapids, venimos de Buenos Aires. El calor de Iowa en agosto es agobiante, aunque todavía no lo sabemos; los aeropuertos tienen la misma temperatura en todo el mundo. Estoy cansado, Cyn también, después de 20 horas de viaje, dos escalas, cuatro valijas y un cochecito. Nina durmió toda la noche y ahora corre por el aeropuerto vacío.

A lo lejos, una chica con un mechón rubio y un tipo de barba nos esperan. Son argentinos, Otto va a ser compañero de Cyn en el M.F.A. de escritura creativa en español. Tampoco sabemos todavía que vamos a ser grandes amigos. Leti y Otto le regalan un mono a Nina. Cuando llegamos a nuestra nueva casa, el mono no tiene cabeza.

Iowa nos da una buena bienvenida, aunque cuesta un poco adaptarse al cambio de vida. Nina tiene un año y medio y habla español en media lengua. Yo me siento igual hablando en inglés, me pongo nervioso, pronuncio mal, se me mezclan los tiempos verbales. Pienso que me va a costar más de lo que creía.

En Buenos Aires tardaba por lo menos media hora en ir a cualquier lado; me gusta ir bici a la biblioteca pública y llegar en cinco minutos a mi grupo conversación. Ya conjugo mejor los verbos, aunque a veces tengo que repetir para que la cajera del supermercado entienda lo que estoy tratando de decir.

Nina me pide su “hat.” Ese no, me dice. El del “fox.” Salimos. Tardamos en llegar a la esquina porque salta en cada pila de hojas que va encontrando.

Me despierto con un dedo en el ojo. “Wake up Daddy. Snow!”

Nina cumple 2 años, esta vez en invierno, y esto es frío de verdad. Desde que va al jardín conversa en inglés mientras juega con sus amigos. A mí me sigue costando entender, aunque el trámite del supermercado lo manejo a la perfección.

El sol otra vez en City Park. Con Otto hacemos un asado para solidificar nuestras raíces argentinas y casi para despedirnos. Pienso en que el tiempo pasa muy rápido. Hay gente de todas nacionalidades. Todos hablamos en inglés. Nina repite lo que yo digo, pero bien pronunciado.

Carlo y Alba hacen girar a Nina al ritmo de la música; pienso en lo natural que es para ella ser bilingüe y en la suerte que tiene con esta experiencia. Si no se acuerda de esta aventura, le va a quedar en el lenguaje.

Cyn alza a Nina que de a poco se queda dormida. Kelsi me pregunta si quiero escribir para la revista. Claramente le tendría que decir que no.


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Growing Up in Another Language

Translated by Cynthia Smart

I’m sitting on the grass in front of the Old Capitol. The Cookers are playing in the Jazz Festival. It’s Alba and Carlo’s last night in Iowa City; they are leaving for Colombia. Kelsi asks me if I want to write for Little Village. I think it’s a joke. I’m the only non-writer in the group, but since I’m a little drunk I say yes. Nina sleeps in her mom’s arms.

* * *

We land in Cedar Rapids, from Buenos Aires. Iowa’s heat in August is oppressive, but we don’t know it yet; airports have the same temperature everywhere. I’m tired, and so is Cyn, after 20 hours of travel, two stops, four suitcases, a stroller. Nina slept all night and now runs around in the empty airport.

In the distance, a dark-haired girl with a blonde streak and a guy with a beard wait for us. They are Argentine; Otto is in Cyn’s M.F.A. in Spanish creative writing at the university. We don’t know yet that we are going to become great friends. Leti and Otto give Nina a toy monkey. By the time we get to our new house, the monkey is headless.

Iowa gives us a warm welcome, but adapting to the change takes time. Nina is a year and a half and speaks Spanish in baby language. I feel the same way about English: I get flustered, mispronounce, get tenses mixed up. I think it’ll be more difficult than I had thought.

In Buenos Aires, it took me at least half an hour to get anywhere; here I like to ride my bike to the public library and get to my conversation group in five minutes. I now conjugate verbs better, though sometimes I need to repeat a few times so the supermarket cashier can understand what I’m trying to say.

In English, Nina asks for her “hat.” Not that one, she says. The one with the “fox.” We go out. Getting to the corner takes time; she jumps in each pile of leaves on the way.

I wake up with a finger in my eye. “Wake up, Daddy. Snow!” she says, in English.

Nina turns 2, in the winter this time, and the cold is real. Since she started attending a playgroup she has whole conversations in English with her friends. I still have some trouble understanding, though the supermarket operation I handle perfectly.

The sun, again, in City Park. Otto and I have a barbecue to solidify our Argentine roots and almost to say goodbye. I think that time goes by so fast. There are people from many countries. We all speak in English. Nina repeats what I say, but well-pronounced.

Carlo and Alba make Nina twirl with the music; I think how natural it is for her to be bilingual, and how lucky she is to have this experience. If she doesn’t remember the adventure, it’ll stay with her in the language.

Cyn holds Nina, who gradually falls asleep. Kelsi asks me if I want to write for Little Village. Clearly, I should say no.

Nicolás Giussani is an Argentine filmmaker.
Cynthia Smart is a writer and M.F.A. candidate in Spanish creative writing.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 225.

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