Sunday, September 5, 2010

The huacho convention

In Chile, "huacho" is a potentially derogatory word for a child born out of wedlock. Strangely enough, it's also a term of endearment, regardless of the target's parents' marital status. I call my ex-boyfriend "little bastard" to this day, and we parted on completely amicable terms.

The word figures prominently in the song "Me quieren en Chile" by the California band Los Abandoned. The verse in question goes like this:

Yo no soy de Chile, no soy de Francia
Yo no soy de España ni de L.A.
Por la puta que soy huachita
Puta madre, no más
Por la puta que soy huachita
Puta madre, no más

Or, roughly translated and shortchanging the multiple meanings that Spanish speakers will pick up in the last line:

I'm not from Chile, I'm not from France
I'm not from Spain nor from L.A.
Damn it, I'm a little bastard
To hell with it all
Damn it, I'm a little bastard
To hell with it all

It's not hard to see why this song resonated with me when I stumbled across it a few weeks ago. I could just as easily call myself "huachita" (like my ex-boyfriend does) and substitute Minneapolis, Quito and New York for the last three places mentioned in the song. I might even have to add another slot for Washington, D.C.

I am from Minneapolis, of course. I have a "City of Lakes" poster hanging in my entryway and an "I Love Mpls" print framed on my bookcase. Minneapolis was and will always be my first home. It's the place where my family is based and where I absorbed and internalized the values and customs that characterize me to this day.

However, I think many other people who have spent significant periods of time living abroad would agree that you never truly go home. While I'll probably always call Minneapolis "home," it will never be as invisible to me as it was before I left it. When I was growing up, I hardly ever noticed my surroundings, much less analyzed them, because they were what was and had always been. I didn't stop to ponder the lakes or the parkways or my favorite spots around town any more than a bear stops to ponder the woods. I was in my habitat and didn't know another one.

This changed somewhat when I went off to college in D.C., where I pined for Minnesotans' relaxed pace of conversation and virtually unfailing willingness to hold doors open for others. Nevertheless, the true shift came after I'd spent a few years living in South America. Whenever I visited Minneapolis, I was able to see it with the eyes of an outside observer. How lucky we are to live in a city brimming with water and trees; how wasteful we are to crisscross through it in cars. Simultaneously, I realized that I was not a regular Minneapolitan anymore. During the time I'd been away, my city and its residents had experienced things together -- snowstorms, a catastrophic bridge collapse, years of pop culture -- to which I would never be able to fully relate. Similarly, I'd lived things abroad that no one who'd never experienced anything similar would ever truly understand, no matter how hard I tried to explain.

And my homes away from home and I have shared a lot of things. Quito and I watched thunderstorms roll down the mountains the same time every afternoon. Santiago and I felt the earth shake beneath us. I care about these cities and a lot of the people in them, which, I suppose, makes them homes as well. I'm sure these places have shaped me in more ways that I know.

But, of course, they'll never be home for me like they are to the people who grew up there. The latter have shared so many things that I never will and have a relationship to their cities and cultures that I had to learn like a second language.

Which brings me to another component of expat bastardom: We are linguistic huachos. As a gringo friend and I once discussed in Santiago, one language is no longer sufficient. We talked about how, after years of living in Chile, there were certain concepts we felt we couldn't adequately express in either English or Spanish alone and that those who were in the best position to be able to communicate with us were gringos who had lived in Chile or Chileans who had lived in the States. I mean, sometimes you just need to be able to say, "Puta la weá, it was so awkward, but me dio lata irme" and have someone understand you.

The Los Abandoned song perfectly illustrates the plight of the linguistic huacho, because "puta madre," an expletive in Chile, can also mean "awesome" in Spain. We would have to know where the singer is from to know for sure whether she thinks being a huachita is sh*tty or the sh*t, and since -- by her own admission -- she is from nowhere, we can't know what she means.

In Chile, kids who can't identify their fathers are labeled "huachos" by the insensitive. I'm hereby expropriating the slur and applying it --as a term of endearment, of course -- to those of us unable to define ourselves as the offspring of a single place and a single language. I would hazard the claim that this includes many expats, although we obviously don't experience it in the same way children raised bilingually or in immigrant communities do.

I, for one, am happy to be a huacha. Multiple homes and languages mean a lot of goodbyes and a lot of stammering, but they also mean a lot of unique relationships and a lot of ways to express oneself.

I suppose it would have been more accurate for me to say that I'm happy being a huacha most of the time. There have been moments when I have doubted my ability to relate to or express myself to anyone. However, I take comfort in knowing that there are a lot of other huachos out there -- and that they probably feel the exact same way.

Take my new classmates. After our first department meeting last week, a group of us went out for dessert. As I listened to the others talk about their lives between bites, I realized that I was in the midst of people just like me: people who had bounced from place to place and taken a part of themselves from each pushpin on their personal maps. Paris, Philadelphia, the Dominican Republic, New York, Miami, Minneapolis, Santiago de Compostela and Santiago de Chile: All made their presence known through tales and through language. In the middle of New York, city of huachos, a tableful of huachos were eating pie.

I think we're going to get along just fine.


Maeskizzle said...

Hola huashita!!! Great post :) I love your concept of the linguistic huacho and totally relate to it!!! That's quite original. Hope everything goes great for you out there in NYC!!! Til we meet again. Saludos, your faithful piri-longhi, heheheh

Margaret said...

What a wonderful, hit-the-nail-on-the-head post! Loved your "linguistic huacho" concept--buenísimo! BTW- "huacho" (also guacho) is an Andean term, so I'd guess your singer is not using the Spanish version of puta madre!
All the best in your new program! Doesn't it feel good, after so much time as a huachita, to feel surrounded by like-minded, loose-rooted people? Gente que te cacha? That's what grad school was for me--no longer the weird one, but one of the group!

Jamie said...

Haha I guess my friend never fully explained the term to me when he used to call me washita. He told me it was an orphan.

I also think that in the context you're talking about, an English "bastard" could also be used affectionately. Like your colorful and worldly group at dessert are little bastards of the world. And that's never a bad thing :)

Leigh said...

Yeah, I've heard the "orphan" meaning, too. Either way, it's a pretty strange term of endearment!