EFP – Towards the European Forum in Rome -Maria Cristina Aguirre

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A Foreigner In Her Own Land


Cristina Aguirre



While thinking about writing this lines,
following the invitation from Marie-Helene Brousse, the words of the
Argentinian singer and composer Facundo Cabral resonated in me: Ni soy de aqui, ni soy de alla (I’m not
from here, I’m not from there).

Where does this feeling of stranger,
foreign, alien come from? I can trace it of course to my history but also to
language and to being a woman.

Born in the USA, and more specifically in
New York City, at an early age I moved with my family to Ecuador where I grew
up. When I was 4 years old we came for an extended period of time to the US and
when I returned to Ecuador I had forgotten completely how to speak Spanish. I
recognized my cousins who were my playmates and immediately began speaking to
them, but unbeknownst to me, I was speaking in English. So they didn’t
understand me, and I didn’t know why. I was terrified. Since then, they
nicknamed me “la gringa”, term used by Latinos and Hispanics to denominate
those who come from the States and/or Europe – the foreigners. So language made
me a foreigner among my peers.

Later on when I was studying in France, I
spoke French with was gently called “a charming accent”, marking again the fact
that I was not from “there”.

The other common point these two places had
was that I was not able to vote, as I was not a citizen.

When I decided to move to New York City, my
native city, I had the illusion that finally I would be home, where I was born
and where I could vote. But again, the real of language installed that
invisible barrier that marked my difference: I had an accent in English too,
which leads constantly to the same question, “Where are you from?” I don’t have
a quick answer to this as the “truthful” one, “I’m from here”, leaves the other
unsatisfied and suspicious. So I’m constantly forced to find creative, witty
answers without having to go through my life story, with strangers in an
elevator or other chance encounters.

I even thought to take accent-reducing
classes, until someone told me that everybody has an accent, especially in
English and that it was charming. So I have accepted the trait of “gringa”,
foreigner, represented by the accent, but I think it goes beyond that. I think
it is the particular form that being a woman, the mark of the difference, being
other to oneself, takes for me. And yes, I do enjoy the equivocal that the
three languages provide.











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