Yes, Abuelo, I know the words and what they mean, thanks to you.

I was almost four years old when my family exiled from Cuba and arrived in Miami and to be honest I remember only brief glimpses of my childhood back then. One of the more troubling memories was how I would get harrased by my fellow pre-schoolers because I spoke no English. I dont remember too many specifics, but I remember being beaten up and dragged over dog shit by the English speaking bullies a few times.

One day when I came home reeking of dog shit with a big brown blotch on the back of my shirt, my grandfather, unable to speak a word of English, took it upon himself to teach me to speak English. He did this in different ways, but mainly he would write down words in Spanish and I was supposed to learn their English counterparts. How to spell them and how to write them.

And the method worked, I guess, for a time and for some of the smaller and easier words, but the problem was that Abuelo didnt speak English and thus he couldnt really tell if my pronunciations were correct.

But there were some words my grandfather, ever the baseball fan, knew perfectly and precisely. Yes, “strike” and “home run” and all those baseball terms were included, but since we always watched baseball games together, there were words at every baseball game my grandfather knew, in both pronunciation and meaning. He never actually recited the words, mind you, but he’d heard them many times and admired and respected what they stood for.

In order to help me learn English, my grandfather had me sing the following before every baseball game:

O say, can you see, by the dawn’s early light,

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight’s last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars, through the perilous fight,

O’er the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming!

And the rockets’ red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there:

O say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave?

To this day, whether it’s a game on TV or at the stadium, I sing those words, even if silently. And to this day, I get teary eyed every single time. Not because of my Abuelo no longer being with us, but because of the magnificence and beauty of the meaning and the homage to the symbol those words represent.

Gracias, Abuelo, for the English lesson.

And thank you, Sheila, for reminding us all that today is the Star Spangled Banner’s Birthday.

7 thoughts on “Yes, Abuelo, I know the words and what they mean, thanks to you.”

  1. It’s unfortunate you went through that crap. I did as well, even though I was born in the U.S. and spoke English very well. In their small-minded views, they probably couldn’t have forseen the irony that we Cuban-Americans are some of the biggest defenders of what this country stands for.
    Naturally, I grew up speaking Spanish at home first, but I learned a lot of my early English words watching Sesame Street. (Let the jokes begin)!

  2. Read the third stanza. Stirring stuff:

    Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand
    Between their loved homes and the war’s desolation,
    Blest with vict’ry and peace, may the Heav’n – rescued land
    Praise the Pow’r that hath made and preserved us a nation.
    Then conquer we must, for our cause is just,
    And this be our motto–“In God is our trust.”
    And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave
    O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.

  3. Great post. I remember when I arrived in 1959, there were only two cubanos at St. Peter & Paul and we had quite a hard time fitting in. Eventually we were accepted by the Americanos, based on our beisbol prowess that we brought from Cuba, prior to that, rock fights kept us busy with that crowd. Once they saw we had good throwing arms and aim, we got recruited into the pick up games and assimilated pretty well after that.

  4. Icon of Che Guevara under "Orugullo Latin" at cingular web page.





    To call Mark Seagal





    I called and left message at both numbers. I said: I have been a
    customer of Cingular for years, and I demand to remove the Che Guevara’s
    picture. If you select to keep the picture of a murderer that killed more
    than 600 Cubans including my father in law, a murderer that  hated the
    free enterprise system that Cingular represents, you must have the picture
    of Hitler as proud German. Then, I will understand, but if you do not have
    the picture of another murderer like Che was, then is not a matter of

    Please remove Che picture from options of graphics at Cingular.






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