¡Qué Chita!

The difficulty of learning to communicate in a new dialect.

Vocabulary:

Poco a poco, paso a paso: bit by bit, step by step

chilenismos: Chilean slang, often used in normal dialect

Bakan: cool

po: ya, um, okay, eh

huevos rancheros: a classic Mexican breakfast of eggs, tortillas, and salsa

desayuno: breakfast

mi madre anfitriona: my host mother

Cómo: what

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

Porfis: please

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.

Bakan-po,

I shout with glee to the heavens one day,

Over huevos rancheros during desayuno,

Which I eat daily with mi madre anfitriona.

¿Cómo?

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:

-Qué padre-pi,

--Qué chido-pi

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.

Finally mastered,

Nope just dreamt.

As I glide through the market,

With fresh fruit and veggies,

I hear:

Güerra, you German? French?

--- estadounidense.

Wait, American?

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

Slowly,

After a year,

My Mexican accent thickens,

Vernacular mastered,

Not quite, but closer.

My Spanish,

With the mixture of accents,

Starts to fade.

---¡Aguacate, porfis para una pachanga!

Si-pi.

---¡Qué chita!

¿Cómo?

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

New slang,

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.

Si-pi.


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.

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