Look at this super nerdy facebook message I almost sent to my old roommate Liz. (We lived together in Belfast; she’s from Melbourne.)
Hey lady! Yes, Mexico continues to be awesome. I’m currently in a self-realization phase about what Black Studies scholars refer to as “double consciousness,” where people perceive you as one way because of your appearance and social status. That perception doesn’t have a hugely accurate correlation with, and often contradicts, how you ideally see yourself, but it sometimes feels necessary to play into it for social reasons. In those situations I’m critical of whether I am losing a bit of my self-awareness. Hhaha TMI. I just figured it out just now, sorry. It’s not actually about being white and American here– assumptions and understandings are probably pretty much right in those areas– but more about how I speak Spanish (like a child).
I don’t think I will send it to her. We haven’t spoken in a long time; best to keep it light.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Double_consciousness – Term coined by WEB DuBois, 1897 article in the Atlantic. “Being black, Dubois argued, meant being deprived of a ‘true self‐consciousness.’ Blacks often perceived themselves through the generalized contempt of white America.”
I’m not saying I’m feeling some sort of prism of contempt for this. Not at all. But basically I am saying I think in some ways my personality changes when I speak only Spanish to people. Hablo como mensa, as they say, an innocent, and I get kind of goofy and wide-eyed I think to go along with it. My friend León says I get around it by telling stories and using images, but there is still this thing about not picking up on subtext from others.
That actually probably is what shapes my social interactions more definitively– not how I speak, but how I understand others. Speaking only Spanish, I just don’t get everything that people are telling me, which affects my relationships. It affects my level of responsiveness to them, and I think that is the thing that really influences how they in turn see me.
In English conversation, I’m really good at observing subtext, and it’s kind of a shock not being able to rely on that in Spanish conversation. It’s like going blind or something. But still, you learn.
And I guess it’s balanced out by other things, advantages. Being foreign is interesting, for example. There are others.