My grandmother died on March 31, 2014.
I was sitting in a classroom, waiting for Quechua Club to start when my roommate walked in and told me to gather my things and come with her. My parents and my brother were waiting outside, and that’s when I knew it was the worst case scenario.
You see, my grandmother had a profound impact on who I have become. She watched me every day from when I was a baby through elementary school. She fed me, clothed me, sang me to sleep, did my hair, and let me drink coffee at five years old. She was more than my grandmother; she was Mami Eva.
I was her only granddaughter for almost two decades. My first language was Spanish because I spent the majority of those formative years under her wing. She and I had an unspoken bond, an understanding between just the two of us.
One of my only regrets is not letting her know how who she was has influenced who I am and who I aspire to be.
I lost my grammatical knowledge of Spanish when I started school and quickly succumbed to the pressures of fitting in, responding to Mami Eva’s and my mom’s fast-flying Spanish in only English. By the time I reached high school, I had lost that side of me, and I had lost that connection to Mami Eva. I decided to take Spanish so that I could communicate with her again.
That decision inspired my eventual decision to pursue Spanish as my major in college, which led to the decision to add a second major in Latin American and Caribbean Studies so that I could better understand the heritage that I had decidedly pushed away for years. I wanted to not only communicate with Mami Eva again; I wanted to finally know her.
The last time I ever saw her, she lay in a hospital bed as I cautiously stumbled through my Spanish, laughing with her and my mom as I told them about what I had been up to at school. I was so excited to be able to communicate with her, to see that she was actually understanding my stories and jokes instead of sitting quietly and nervously giggling at the dinner table because she didn’t understand the English chattering around her, which had been the case for so many years.
She seems so happy, I thought. When she gets out of here I’m going to talk with her more.
That was a week before she died.
I graduated from college on what would have been her birthday, a little over a year after she had gone.
At my Latin American and Caribbean Studies graduation program, I spoke with my grandfather and my favorite professor, who is Mexican, in Spanish about my studies and where I was going from there. If Mami Eva could just see this, I thought. My grandfather teared up and I knew he was thinking the same thing.
I see now that she was my inspiration for all of it. I may be a native-born American, but half of me is Peruvian too. I never had to try and understand the white American part of what makes me who I am because I live in a culture where I am inundated with it. I took Spanish to get back to who I was as a toddler who could barely speak, but who did so primarily in Spanish. I got a degree in Latin American and Caribbean Studies to have an understanding of where my family comes from and how that has influenced what we eat, the traditions we partake in, and the decorations scattered around our house. And then, as I was deciding that it wasn’t time just yet for me to jump into grad school, the last piece of this discovery puzzle made itself clear to me.
If I wanted to understand Mami Eva and who she was, if I wanted to have a mental backdrop for my mom’s stories from her childhood, if I wanted to wrap up all of the studying I had done in classrooms all to get a sense of who I was, I had to go. I had to close the textbooks and go to Peru.
So I did.