On Monday I’m starting my new job as database and investigative editor for Hoy, the Chicago Tribune’s Spanish-language newspaper.
It’s a thrilling position rich in opportunity and challenges, the first of which is language.
In 2007, through a combination of reading Hoy, listening to the radio and watching the telenovela Destilando Amor, I taught myself to speak and comprehend Spanish at a level sufficient to interview and participate on La Vida Independiente, Horacio Esparza’s weekly radio show about disability issues.
My learning was prompted by a project my brother Jon and I did for the Reporter about undocumented Latino immigrants who become disabled on the job.
Since then I’ve talked regularly at work with close friend Brandon Magruder, and did some additional multi-media stories for a project we did last year at the Reporter around child sexual abuse.
That said, there is an enormous distance between being able to talk with someone and actually read and write, which is what I will need to do at Hoy.
As such, I’ve been reading the newspaper each day, circling and then looking up, the words that I don’t understand.
Fortunately, thanks to the influence of my late father-in-law, Martin Kelly, I’ve been able to apply the speed reading tactics he introduced me to in English to my reading in Spanish.
I’m a much faster reader in English than in Spanish, and I do quite regularly find out that what I thought I read actually meant something different when I look up the unknown words. Still, I have been pleasantly surprised to see that the techniques do seem to work.
I’ve also been watching movies.
Thus far Dunreith and I have watched movies about baseball in the Dominican Republic, an army captain assigned to set up a mobile convoy of prostitutes for soldiers in Amazonian Peru, the children of the disappeared in Argentina and migrants making the treacherous journey north from Guatemala to the United States.
Much of this has been pretty heavy fare, so today we chose Casi Divas, a Mexican film about a nationwide talent search conducted to replace Eva Gallardo, the woman who plays the lead role in telenovela Maria Enamorada.
The movie focuses on four contestants, each of whom come from a different part of Mexico and represent a distinct swath of its social fabric. Ximena is the daughter of a wealthy banker who expects to be chosen and is unafraid to bring in her family connections in the quest for victory. Francisca is an Indian who hails from Oaxaca and who encounters the racial prejudice that is still alive and well in the country. Yessenia is a cross dresses from Mexico City who lives in a house full of children and chaos. And Catalina comes from the border city of Ciudad Juarez.
The tone of the movie is light and even slap-stickish for much of the film, especially in the on again-off again romance between Gallardo and producer Alejandro Mateos. Director Issa Lopez spoofs the influence of American Idol, the over-the-top drama of the novelas and the lengths that the contestants will go to to emerge victorious. There is some treacly material in there, too, about identity and being who you are.
But Casi Divas has its moments of seriousness and social commentary.
Catalina makes the finals, only to discover that her friends Gladys has joined the ranks of the hundreds of women who have been disappeared there. Her final scene where she and six other women say the names and hold up the pictures of some of these women is haunting and evokes the measures taken by the mothers in Argentina and the aprilleristas in Chile, about whom I wrote earlier in the week.
In a similar vein, the stunned audience response when Francisca answers that she would start by “telling it like it is” and change Mexico’s name to more accurately reflect its Indian past has power, too.
The film’s ending does not contain a lot of surprises, but it is still a journey worth taking. Casi Divas not only helped me sharpen my skills for Monday, it gave me a better appreciation of some of the various strands of Mexican society.
Now, onto the grammar book!