When I was four, my family, composed of mother, father, two brothers and one sister (the sister hadn’t been born yet), arrived in Montreal, Canada. We came from Madrid, Spain. I don’t remember the flight. I don’t remember life in Madrid. My earliest memory is of a closet – I was inside it. The closet in turn was inside my kindergarten classroom. The teacher had put me in that closet because I couldn’t speak English. I assume she thought I would learn English more quickly that way.
A second memory – also kindergarten, although it could have been first grade – is me sitting at the front of the bus, under the protection of the bus driver, trying bravely not to cry, because the other kids were picking on me. Again, the language thing.
There were other such incidents, and with this kind of encouragement my English got good; excellent, in fact. To the point at which I won awards here and there for composition, reading comprehension, oratorical skills, whatever. I remember – now in grade six – that some government people arrived to test us and that after the test was complete I was given special consideration in the language arts. I don’t remember what that consideration was, but I was given it. In grade six, also, I put together a weekly school newspaper, all of whose stories and columns I wrote, and whose crossword puzzles I came up with. Still in grade six, one day the teacher asked us to draw something and I drew a pretty picture, and I turned to speak to the kid at the desk behind me, and when I turned back to my picture, someone had put a strip of scotch tape straight across it. There was this sinking feeling in my stomach – I remember that well – and there was another feeling; I think it was shame; I think it was shame at myself. Because I didn’t fit, I didn’t belong, and I was being let know.
For a long time afterward – years, in fact – I was ashamed of my parents’ accents, and I hated it, just hated it, if we had to be out in public together, especially where people knew me.
And I remember one stupid incident: my mother and I were in the IGA (a supermarket in Quebec), I was twelve or thirteen, I picked up an item and said something – in Spanish – to the person beside me. I hadn’t been paying attention and I thought the person was my mother – but she wasn’t; she was some random woman. My face on fire, I stammered out that I was practicing for a school play and I ran off.