The other day, one of my Spanish students asked me if he could be my friend on Facebook.com. Of course, I said yes. And we are now friends on Facebook. I’ve always gotten along with my Spanish students. That’s because I love my students. But not in the sexual harassment civil lawsuit kind of love. I’ve been teaching college Spanish for about twelve years now, so I remember a lot of students from over the years. Some students kept in touch with me for a while after taking my class and then eventually disappeared from my life. Other students occasionally run into me by chance. Some I will never forget.
I remember Elwood Chipchase and his wife Grace took Spanish 101 and 102 with me at Morton College. He was a minister in Cicero, Illinois, and his congregation was mostly Mexican. He was seriously studying Spanish so could better communicate with his parishioners. Both he and his wife were the students most dedicated to learning Spanish. At first, he didn’t tell me that he was a minister or why he was learning Spanish. One day he asked me why when he asked Mexicans about their mother they kind of paused before answering. Sometimes they gave him a pained look, as if they were offended. I asked Elwood how he asked them. He would greet them, ask them how they were, and how their spouse was in Spanish. Then he would ask about their mother, “¿Y tu madre?” I thought about it a while. Why would they hesitate to respond? Elwood’s Spanish was clear enough to understand. Then it dawned on me. But I felt uncomfortable explaining my theory to him since he was a minister. The problem is that all Mexicans refer to their mother as mamá or mami. They only time they use madre is when they swear at someone, as in, “Chinga tu madre.” Well, he was grateful for my explanation and said he would change his choice of words. The next week he reported that everyone responded more warmly to his inquiries.