“Good morning, America!” the subject line of the e-mail at the top of my feed said a cheery hello. The sender was my cousin Ruthie, born in Aruba, daughter of my father’s brother, Monte.
On my visit to Aruba in the 50s. Little Ruthie: brown and yellow bangs, bluest eyes, little Dutch girl in a white pinafore speaking the oddly musical Papiamentu to my Spanish ears, a creole language spoken in Aruba, Bonaire, and Curacao (a mishmash of Portuguese, Spanish, and Dutch). Many years later I meet cousin Ruthie in Amsterdam, now a middle aged woman, tender and private.
“Dearest cousin," Ruthie began. "I enjoy the e-mails from your blog mucho.” She jokingly retitled my recent Soy/Somos post, “I’m Not Yelling! I’m Cuban!” to “We scream! We are all Cuban!” describing in her e-mail how language differences affected her when she moved from the tiny island of Aruba off the coast of Venezuela to Holland, the motherland.
"I felt a tremendous loneliness in my early years in Holland," she wrote, "spoke a little bit of Dutch with a thick Aruban accent. Later on realizing their stoic character being: 'We don’t need to understand you. You have come to our country, so get on with it.' So rude in my eyes, back then in the 70s.
"My language/Antillano problem--and I speak only for myself and the white friends I know born and raised in Aruba--is that we have three or even four languages to manage. We all have the same weirdness that in conversing with each other we hop from Dutch to Papiamentu, English, or anywhere in between. In 2016 I noticed that Arubans of color found this irritating and would ask me to choose one language. Hah! And they knew all three languages themselves.
“Nowadays my Dutch is pretty much accentless," she wrote, "so my inner world is not noticed much by the Dutch. I cannot express the typical soft, warm breeze, light attitude of the Arubans. Thongs on your feet, short sleeves and slow walking. No complicated issues to work out. You like me or you don’t. It's understood. I miss laughing about nothing. Our humor is aimed at ourselves in Aruba. Here humor is aimed at the other. It's scary, as you need to be Dutch with the will to outsmart the joker. If you ask me how life becomes slightly unbearable to immigrants, it would be this. The missed humor to share.
"It’s a wild world at the moment but still lots of shelter and food on our tables for which I am grateful." Ruthie recounted some of the mother-daughter moments in her life, knowing I'd written about the painful distances between my mother and myself. "We are all in relatively good health with all the quirks and little pains any body shows at this age. Too much richness in foods these days, and we all love the tasty but wrong product. Hey?”
This blog post is for you--dear cousin Ruthie, in the watery city of Amsterdam--you who were touched by my words and the words of people I put on paper, and added your story to theirs. Today the overwhelming majority of people live in a multicultural world. I just learned yesterday that in New York City thirty-seven percent of inhabitants were born outside of the United States. We rub shoulders with others of sharply different backgrounds and oddly musical accents.
Laten wij luisteren. (Dutch) Laga nos scucha. (Papiamentu) Escuchemos. (Spanish) Let's just listen.