Poco a poco, paso a paso: bit by bit, step by step
chilenismos: Chilean slang, often used in normal dialect
po: ya, um, okay, eh
huevos rancheros: a classic Mexican breakfast of eggs, tortillas, and salsa
mi madre anfitriona: my host mother
Con una cara chistosa: with a silly face
Qué padre: cool
pi: ya, um, okay, eh
Qué chido: cool
Güerra: white lady
Estadounidense: American, from the US
Palta: avocado in Chile
Aguacate: avocado in Mexico
para una pachanga: for a party
Qué chita: cheetah, but created to mean ‘cool’
By Jessica Helgesen - Peace Corps Volunteer, Mexico (2014 - 2016)
Poco a poco, paso a paso, they say here
As I stumble through the language.
Speeding too fast,
On an unpaved windy, winding road.
Spanish---- studied for years.
Immersion experience in Chile;
Mind spinning full of chilenismos.
I shout with glee to the heavens one day,
Over huevos rancheros during desayuno,
Which I eat daily with mi madre anfitriona.
My host mother looks goofily at me.
Mexican slang and terminology unknown to me,
Not quite a foreign tongue, but close enough.
Con una cara chistosa,
My host mother teaches me:
The words slide off my tongue.
Yet the silly, unnecessary po, transforms to a pi,
Struggling to exit my mouth.
Time for adaptation.
Mimicking sounds: rhythms, beats, tones,
Attempting to grasp the accent.
Nope just dreamt.
As I glide through the market,
With fresh fruit and veggies,
Güerra, you German? French?
My Spanish accent confuses those around me,
Influenced from travels and foreign friends,
Thickly sprinkled mostly with Wisconsin, German, French and Chilean undertones,
Combined with Chilean terminology as I ask for palta.
Clearly foreign, yet my own
After a year,
My Mexican accent thickens,
Not quite, but closer.
With the mixture of accents,
Starts to fade.
---¡Aguacate, porfis para una pachanga!
While swimming through the swamp of a new language,
Slang is created,
Between friends, between strangers,
To create your own identity by playing with similar sounding words,
Or simply words unknown to you.
---Chita; Cheetah --> Cool
Perhaps by accident
Or for fun.
After a silly explanation,
Including a hand gesture with the chita rawr,
We bond in the market over palta,
I mean, aguacate.
---Chiiiita we are.
This poem was entered in the Volunteer category for the 2015 Peace Corps Poetry Contest. The contest received more than 1,000 submissions, representing over 50 years of Peace Corps service in more than 100 countries.