Updated: Apr 24, 2020
This post will already be longer than most, but the story is cool, and the story within the story - even cooler.
Reader's Digest version of what all went down:
1. I read a post on Facebook by a Spanish teacher in Minnesota and was inspired to write a story.
2. I shared my story with her privately.
3. She responded happily, calling the story "magical," wondering if I was actually with her when her whole story took place.
4. She added to the story and sent it back to me.
What you'll read is a true collaboration - pretty much 50/50. It's her story, told by me and further fleshed out by her. Because, as you can imagine, I wasn't there. In my Google drive it is titled, "Gabe and the Workers." Not original, but the story is. Read on...
“Mommmmmm, what’s the surprise? Where are we going!?” he asked me in the car on the way to our destination. “Is it Chuck E Cheese? Dave and Buster’s? The trampoline park?”
“I know, I know!” his little brother piped in. “She grabbed our sweatshirts so we’re going to be outside! I bet we’re going to go mini-golfing!”
I had the idea to visit the Northtown Carnival just this afternoon on a whim. The weather was going to be nice and the boys and I needed something to do. We all survived the winter of 2018 and we - well, I - wanted to celebrate. I thought some fun rides and even better - fun carnival food would be just the ticket…
“Are you going to tell us???” Gabe was impatient. Though at seven years old he knew very well that I loved to plan fun surprises, and they were usually as good as I promised…he was growing more and more restless the more miles we traveled.
My smile grew as we drove closer – the kids were going to be so excited. Carnivals, fair food, and rides were our family’s favorite activities – and usually they didn’t start until June when school let out.
The car ride was filled with chatter about possibilities in the area – “This is the way to Chuck E Cheese! I knew it!” said 5 year old Cam.
“Mom – is it Mall of America? It can’t be Valleyfair! That place isn’t open yet!”
“We wouldn’t be driving all the way to Mall of America on a school night, Cam!” said Gabe – always the logical older brother.
The boys spotted the carnival as I pulled up to the stop light. Squeals of delight echoed through the minivan.
“MOM! Are we here to ride the rides?” asked Cam – knowing that sometimes we just swing by carnivals and fairs to buy some treats and visit some booths and then head home.
I started to answer, but the boys didn’t hear, they were busy in the backseat planning what they would see and do and taste…
Upon walking into the carnival, I suggested that we go to the Giant Slide first, as it was a ride they both absolutely loved. Both boys agreed.
Walking up to the entrance of the slide, Gabe heard something that caused him to react. Sweetly. The ride operators were speaking in Spanish. Gabe looked at me and said, “Mamá, esas personas hablan español,” immediately switching into Spanish to talk with me.
“Después de esto vamos a ir a…” one of the men said.
A student at the Spanish Immersion school in the district, Gabe immediately code-switched and began chatting with the men.
“¿Cómo están?” he asked them, inquiring how they were. “Hablo español también.”
The ride operators were astonished - and quite frankly, so was I. A Spanish teacher myself, I have always wanted my children to grow up bilingual and culturally dexterous. But most of the time, Gabe was quite shy with his Spanish, only speaking it when I asked him to, or assured him about the words he was going to use first. It was amazing - Gabe was showing me that he was getting it. I was in awe watching my 7-year old boy nonchalantly chat with men three or maybe four times his age. And the very best part, they were asking HIM questions about how to say certain phrases in English!
He began with simple things they needed to know to do their job well, “Demasiado bajo, se dice. Too short,” Gabe said slowly.
“Tuu shor?” repeated José Guadalupe, who went by “Lupe” because there were 2 other “Josés” working at the carnival.
“Too. Shorttttt.” responded Gabe, speaking slowly and repeating it patiently.
We moved on to the Bumper Cars, which Gabe was asking me how to say in Spanish. As a Spanish teacher myself, I can often answer his questions, but of course, “Bumper Cars” is not a common everyday Spanish phrase, and I was at a loss. “Ask the worker”, I told Gabe. “Ask him in Spanish – I think he could tell you.”
“Cómo se dice ‘bumper cars’ en español?” asked Gabe. The guy’s eyes opened wide, and he did a double take to look and make sure that Spanish came from the blond-haired blue-eyed little boy in the MN Wild sweatshirt!
“¿Hablas español?” he asked Gabe incredulously – although it made me chuckle, because clearly Gabe spoke Spanish because he had asked him the question in Spanish.
“Sí,” said Gabe, “Me llamo Gabe y hablo español.”
“Me llamo Rafael,” he replied. And with that began a 20-minute Spanish session where Gabe taught him how to say things like, “Pull down on the bar,” and “Give me your tickets, please”.
Little brother Cam also tried to interject. “¡Rojo! ¡Elefante! Cuatro, cinco, seis…” he would say to the workers, who would smile in delight. It seemed that gringo families that spoke Spanish were quite the thrill to these men, who had only left their families in Veracruz a couple weeks earlier to work for the summer at the carnival for a few months.
“¿Y cómo se dice 'espera, por favor'?’” asked Rafa while we were at the Bumper Cars. Gabe responded with “Wait, please,” and then repeated it again. “Way- t, pleeee-z,” he said slowly several more times.
Then we were off to another ride. While his little brother rode the pirate ship over and over again, Gabe stood with José Lupe and me, teaching him phrases that he would write down in his little notebook that he kept with him on top of the ride controls. If I’m being honest, I was mildly concerned for Cam’s safety on that ride as José’s full attention was on learning English from Gabe – soaking it up like a sponge. I have never seen someone devour words so quickly and with such a voracious appetite. The joy of learning was shining so intensely in his eyes, they were actually twinkling. Of course, it could have been the lights of the pirate ship ride, because by that time it had gotten dark and it was 40 minutes past the 8:10 deadline I had set for us to depart… but I like to think it was the love of learning and the thirst for words that was lighting up José Lupe’s eyes that night.
Originally I had planned for the three of us to wander around the carnival grounds eating fair food like cheese curds and mini donuts, and going on the rides as much as possible because I had splurged for the wristbands instead of the individual tickets. But mostly what we did was go from ride to ride so Gabe could chat with the ride operators. They were loving the lessons that they were getting from the “little gringo” and I was loving watching him - and bearing witness to the true meaning of language: communication.
On our way home from the carnival, Gabe asked if we could return the following night.
“Mom, can we come back? Please, please, PLEASE???” he begged.
“Why? Do you want to actually ride the rides next time?” I asked, laughing.
“No. I want to talk with José and Rafa again. I keep thinking of new things I can teach them to say in English.”
The wristband I bought Gabe was barely used for going on any rides, like I had originally intended. But the joyous ride that my son took me on that night, showing me not only his language skills, but his humanity...well, it was money well spent.