|La Bandera de Cuba|
A few things Cubano
Since Miami is the cross-roads of all things Latin American, my mission afforded me the opportunity to work with people from every Spanish-speaking country. My first area, Hialeah, was all kinds of Cuban, and it was there where I fell in love with the Cuban people, culture, and their unique version of Spanish. On my first night in my first area, my companion and I had dinner with a Cuban family where I was introduced to black beans and rice ('moros y cristianos'), tostones, full-throated yelling to simply ask for something more to drink, and a language that was nothing like what I'd been learning for the previous two months. R's had become L's and T's seemed to be a nothing more than a suggestion. My head was spinning at the cacophony that crazy, chaotic night, but little did I realize that I was falling for a people and their language. In short order, the Cuban accent and dialect became my go to as I served in areas loaded with Spanish speakers from countries other than Cuba. I was not a perfect speaker of the language but I embraced the gift I'd been given.
After my mission, I had opportunities to use that gift in my work on many occasions. I never envisioned that I would be giving HR guidance to directors from across Latin America in Spanish, but years after my mission, there I was in Mexico City doing that very thing. I never thought I'd be helping a lost Peruvian family with directions but there I was at Tokyo Narita Airport rattling off directions in Spanish to get them to their next flight. And I never expected to hear what I heard last week while I was in Barcelona, Spain, where I was facilitating a small group session at a conference. The conference was being presented in English but I decided to do a brief part of my session in Spanish. After I broke back to English, one of the participants, a woman from Madrid leaned over to me and in Spanish asked me what part of Cuba I was from. In an instant I didn't know if I would burst into tears or take her up in a grateful bear hug. She told me her father was Cuban and my accent was distinctly Cuban. I was thrilled by this, amazed that 28 years after learning her language, I still had a semblance of it rattling around in my head.
It was humbling too. I know this was a gift that I'd been given by a loving Father who knew what a 19 year old kid needed all those years ago. I needed those two years in the mission field more than the mission field needed me. I needed to struggle to learn a language. I needed to struggle with who I was and grow firm in what I believed. I needed all that I experienced for those two years. I am grateful for each and every day of it. I am still in awe that it's still paying off, even after all these years.