Speaking Spanish in the Big Apple

As an early riser, at 5 a.m. on weekdays I tune into Radio Wado, the Spanish language radio station in the greater New York City area. With its mix of “noticias, deportes y mas,” I can listen to the news and move ahead a bit on my Spanish language comprehension. Even the ads help! The announcers (locutores) speak fast but clearly, and usually I am happily surprised at understanding quite a bit. On coming home in the evening, I again tune in for a program called the "Palo de la Tarde," which is less focused news and more on joking on whatever events strike this different set of announcers, including a woman named Gisella Garcia, who is the sidekick of a certain Coco Cabrera who tends to dominate their conversation.

Learning the basics of Spanish first began with a course in college, and over the years what was absorbed might easily have disappeared. But on moving to New York, with its huge Spanish speaking population, it seemed a good idea to resurrect what was lost, and learn more. Luckily, the Archdiocese was offering a free program that I followed as long as it lasted. But with what I learned there, and with what continues to be absorbed from Radio Wado, it became possible to say mass in Spanish.

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In this month of August, saying mass in Spanish has taken place mostly the Mott Haven section of the Bronx, at a community outreach center called Abraham House. The name is meant to reflect three of the major religions. It was begun by a group of Belgian Sisters and a French priest. Like many Europeans, they speak several languages, Spanish among them, and so are in instant communication with the largely Mexican residents who come to the center for assistance or guidance. Most of the Sisters and the priest have experience as chaplains at Rikers Island, the big jail and prison complex in the East River. A number of those who come to Abraham house have family members or friends behind bars, so there is an instinctive bonding between them, the staff and the half dozen prisoners placed at Abraham House by the courts as their cases move forward. All are first-time offenders charged with non-violent offenses. The prisoners help in the work of the center and receive tutoring and other forms of re-entry preparation. So even though I can only offer a gringo mass, stumbling over words difficult to pronounce, to be there is in itself to be reminded of those for whom Jesus has a special love, “the least” in the eyes of the world, but not in the eyes of God.

George Anderson, S.J.

 

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