Iván Brave



Iván Brave lives and works in New York, where he teaches English to local and international students. After earning his MFA at the New School this past May, Iván has been seeking to publish his debut novel. He is happy to say this is his first story ever published, and he hopes for many more. You can learn more at “ivanbrave.com

How to Apologize to your Father in Spanish

My father told me one day, driving home, that I should lie about myself. Most car rides, we kept quiet. He didn’t know that in elementary school I used to tell classmates I was born in Buenos Aires so people would see me the way they saw him. But now the deception he was suggesting was just the opposite—to tell people I wasn’t like him.

My siblings and I were raised in one home and one language: Houston, Texas, Spanish. The rule at the dinner table was “Hablen castellano.” My father’s eyes glazed over when he heard us speak in English. The language of his upbringing was his gift to us. Just as he handed down his jean jackets and read to us from his favorite children’s books, like El principito, Spanish was his way of connecting us with his past. Living at home, under his reprimands and praises, it was easy to hold on to the one thing that bound us together: Spanish. I hoped to pass on the tradition—his culture and language—to our own children in the future.

In college, however, as the number of calls and visits back home declined, so did my first language. Those four years that I become less like my father, and more like someone who couldn’t speak with him, despite still flaunting my mixed background at parties. Peers at my university loved to meet exotic strangers. They pointed at me by commenting on my Argentine background. “He’s from over there.”

After graduation, I grew tired of knowing I should practice. I decided the best way to regain my original tongue would be to live in Argentina for a year on scholarship. Deeper than that, I hoped that winning a grant would make papá proud. I wanted him to see my effort to reconnect with his past, to prove that I could speak Spanish like a man, not just like a kid when I was living at home.

While applying for grants, I saw how stiff my Spanish had gotten. Over the phone or between emails, I found myself needing words I had never learned—estimado, conceder, otorgar—words far above the nest, beyond childhood.

Driving one day, he suggested I excuse my occasional stammer in Spanish with a simple lie. He suggested I tell people that Spanish was my second language. With his words, I felt he had pushed me out of the car, out of his life. I wondered how difficult it must have been for him to immigrate to the United States, how many times he had to tell a story when asked about his accent in English. But I wasn’t thinking about him in the car, only about myself.

“Deciles que castellano es tu segundo idioma,” he said.

I told him it wasn’t true, “No es verdad.”

“Sí, es,” he said, turning the wheel. “Practicamente.”

I told him I wasn’t going to fib, especially not about how he had raised me, his eldest son, not when it contradicted how he had taught me to live, upright and honest. But then my chest sank, and my shoulders came together. I looked over and saw my father’s eyes glazed over. Not understanding that maybe he was ashamed of himself, and not me, for letting his gift of language slip away, I took his words to heart. I told my father—the one man I loved more than myself—to screw off.

As much as it hurt to bury myself, in the end I took his advice. From then on, when someone asked “Where are you from?” I replied with “Texas,” which didn’t sound as exciting as I had made myself out to be all those years. The truth isolated me from non-Texans, and distanced me from my family as much as it did from my father.

The grants never came, but I traveled to Buenos Aires for nine months anyway, mostly by living with my grandmother in her fourth floor apartment and sharing a room with my married cousin. In that time, I learned more about my heritage than the previous twenty-four years combined. Under their silver and cerulean sky I enjoyed authors like Piglia, Cortázar and Borges in the original voice of their imagination. But when it came time to join my aunts or uncles in conversations, and share these literary fancies, my own kin would not understand me, not respond, or merely reply with a “Huh,” and a faraway smile. “Es un raro,” they murmured. He’s not like us. He’s from over there.

Recounting a story once at lunch about a dog who pulled spaghetti strings out of a trash bag on the sidewalk, my uncle waited for me to finish before telling me I had conjugated all the verbs wrong. I didn’t believe him, until my aunt walked in and my uncle detailed my every blunder. She said it made sense, because in English verbs are not conjugated. I shut up for the rest of lunch. This wasn’t an “F” in a foreign language class. It was a failure to be myself. After nine months among a nation full of fast-talking, witty, artsy people, I understood why my father and I found comfort in one another’s company, just being quiet sometimes.

I looked out of the passenger window, up to a big Texan sky. There came a deep breath, and silence. If I could, I would go back and say the right thing.

“I wish I were more like you, papá. Perdoname. Por favor, perdoname.”

© The Acentos Review 2018