My car brakes have been pretty squeaky, so I know I’ll need a mechanic soon. It’s a real pain finding a mechanic that you can trust to repair what actually needs to be repaired for a reasonable price.
When my car failed inspection in November, I had no choice but to take it to a new mechanic who was able to fix what needed fixing and then conduct the inspection for me.
He was pretty transparent with me, actually showing me what was wrong while the car was raised up off of the ground and explaining in detail how he was going to fix it. It was still expensive but I gave a sigh and agreed.
I had no choice. There was nowhere else to go at the last minute that was close to me.
Since moving back to my home town, all the mechanics I had trusted had let me down in some way or another. One of them was where my family had gone for repairs over the years and the owner was pretty patient and nice.
I didn’t feel so self-conscious speaking Spanish in front of him because he never rolled his eyes or seemed annoyed because I wasn’t as fluent as he was. One of his mechanics was also pretty nice to me and didn’t seem fazed when I stumbled over my words sometimes.
Speaking Spanish (or any language other than English) with those who are native speakers can be daunting and it always makes me tongue-tied.
The last time I went to this place, there was a brand new mechanic that the owner assigned to me. My car was making a strange noise and the tire pressure light was on, even though my tires weren’t deflated or running low to the ground.
The owner motioned the new guy over so I could explain the situation.
“Esta haciendo mucho ruido y esta templando demaisado (it’s making a lot of noise and shaking way too much),” I said. I was pleased to hear that my words sounded confident and strong, well, at least to my ears.
His face broke out into a slow grin, like when the Grinch who stole Christmas comes up with his master plan. Uh-oh. There it was, the grin that I knew all to well. It was the ‘this girl can’t speak Spanish for shit’ grin.
“Dejame ver, ensename (let me take a look, show me),” he replied. We went out to my car and I unlocked the driver’s side door. He stood next to the passenger door and I unlocked it for him to sit down next to me.
I started the car and within a few seconds, the noise started, followed by some subtle shaking.
“Viste? No se porque, esta, um, como descontrollado (See? I don’t why but it’s, um, kind of out of control),” I said.
“Mmm, si lo veo (hmm, yeah I see it),” he said. He told me he would have to pop the hood to see if it was a strut or something like that. I’m not much for car terminology.
“Okay, si esta bien (sure, sounds good),” I said. As I was about to give him the car keys, his next question flew out of his mouth.
“De donde eres (where are you from)?”
“Oh, mi famila es de Puerto Rico pero yo naci aquí (my family’s from Puerto Rico but I was born here).”
The grin returned. “Ah si me imaginaba, hablas el espanol un poquito raro (ah yes, that’s what I thought, since you speak Spanish a little strange).”
My face warmed up instantly and I knew that it was red. And there I was, thinking that I was speaking just fine.
Leave it to that mechanic to scrutinize the mechanics of how I spoke to him. What bothered me most was the smile on his face, which had only grown wider when he blurted out his reply. It felt like he had thrown a can of paint that was full of mud at me, leaving me dripping from head to toe.
It would have been valid for me to mention how rude I felt his comment was but I simply had nothing to say. So I just kept quiet and nodded at him when he asked for the key to thoroughly check the car out.
When I went to pick up my car, he said he could find nothing wrong and that it could be that I wasn’t allowing enough time for the car to warm up before taking off.
“Okay, gracias,” I said, taking my keys from him.
He was no longer smiling and simply nodded, refusing to look me in the eye. I haven’t been back to that repair shop ever since. I’m not sure if he is still there. Maybe one day I’ll go back and see if he is.
It makes me sad to think that someone from my own culture could make me feel so small and self-conscious for simply speaking the same language that they were but not up to their standard or as good as they do.
I wish I knew more Latinos who, like me, speak Spanish a little differently but can still speak it, regardless, to relate to but I don’t.
Culture is everything and without it, you can feel a little lost sometimes (especially as a writer). But I’m sure I’ll find some kindred souls to relate to at some point, maybe once I find a regular mechanic.
And I’ll speak my imperfectly perfect Spanish without hesitation, ready to defend it if I ever get challenged again.