Seven years later I found myself amongst young minds. Some seeking knowledge. Others seeking an escape from the physical boundaries confining them to seats and following regimented rules of hand raising, listening to authority and meaningless conjugations of “hablar” y “estar.” I, on the other hand, viewed the inside of this Spanish classroom as my escape . . . the escape to that place that I had only been afforded the opportunity to visit and peer into on occasion. The language lessons that had begun in High School journeyed with me to college in the form of a concentration.
It was there that I decided that somewhere deep within me resided a hunger. That initial desire to taste the language was being satisfied. But the more I indulged, the more I tasted, the frequency in which I allowed the “r’s” to roll off of my tongue, the more I realized how unsatisfied I was. I was being made aware that I hungered for so much more than simple language.
This dissatisfaction with all that I had consumed steered me to a wooden seat at a table surrounded by others who hungered. At this table we exchanged conversacion que contiene una mezcla de ingles y Spanish. This table also served as a dwelling of consumption: consumption of huevos con habichuelas for breakfast and mole for dinner; consumption of cultural experiences that would have no place in the U.S.; consumption that directly affected how full I would get. Seated at this table in Guadalajara, Mexico, my hunger for more subsided. Why? Fulfillment was being birthed in the realization that language was a small piece of the identity I was trying to make sense of. Identification with an entire culture could not simply be captured through language alone. Hunger of the mouth dissipated; yet hunger for the identity surfaced.
Just short of seven years removed from my experience in Guadalajara, I changed my seat. This time I was seated on the soft plush cushion positioned in the backseat of a white ’03 Nissan Altima. Although this seat’s texture differed, one major commonality it shared with my seat in Guadalajara was what it offered me. Beyond a place to rest, it offered me experience; experience that anxiously awaited me just as quickly as I ventured out of my home country. The seat in Panama City, Panama was a traveling seat. It afforded me the opportunity to taste culture as I did in Mexico. More importantly, however, it navigated through a country I had spent over two decades wondering about. This traveling seat gave me the front row luxury of engaging with my culture through each of the five senses.
Manejando por las calles de Panama, I could feel a sense of belonging. My eyes raced through the roads of Colon in search of someone who looked like me . . . like my father. My ear listened intently as the natives spoke la idioma with such fluency in spite of the Caribbean influence, which lingered on the letter sounds. Standing on the balcony of a ship in the Panama canal, the stench of tenacity seeped through my nostrils as I was being made aware of the laborious efforts required to facilitate such a project. Taste. Panama tasted of camarones y arroz con coco, raspados con crema and, ultimately, familiarity. I was brought back to the first time I heard my father speak that language to those people . . .my language to my people. I could now identify. While I still do not have all of the pieces to my complex identity, I am satisfied. My trip to Panama represented so much more than a vacation. It ignited the ultimate [click]; understanding. I still have more journeying to do. I’m not sure what seat I will find myself atop of next, but I know I am headed in the right direction. [Click]