A fourth grade student decides to take an after-school Spanish class. She is eager to learn the language as her abuelos speak the language and she does not. One afternoon, the teacher has the all the students stand in a semi-circle so that everyone can see one another. She presents each student an index card and on one side is a Spanish word and the other side is the English translation. One by one the students read aloud the Spanish word with the English translation facing his peers. The teacher then asks “Now what does that mean in English?” And the student replies with the correct word.
It is my turn, I am the 4th grade student. My word is “qué”. I don’t know what it means. I pronounce “qué” out loud to my peers while there are butterflies in my stomach because I know that I don’t know what this word means. I think to myself, ‘Please teacher just tell me the answer.’
“What does qué mean?”, she asks already looking at the next student as she assumes I will know the answer.
“I don’t know,” I murmur. Puzzled, she repeats her question. And again, I murmur “I don’t know.” This repeated itself at least once more.
“That’s okay,” she politely says. “Qué means what,” she simply states.
But I heard, “Qué means what?”
“I don’t know!” I cry out. “I don’t know what qué means!”
Well if you are not familiar with the Spanish language, “Qué” is the Spanish word for “What”. Qué IS what.
Without a doubt, this is one of the most embarrassing moments in my life. Today, I consider it one of the funniest moments of my life but that didn’t come until much, much later.
This might have been my earliest encounter of ‘we hear what we want to hear’. My teacher was giving me the answer and all I heard was interrogation. It does describe much of how I have participated in my life. So wrapped up in getting it right or wrapped up in myself, I miss the answers being handed right to me.
This is my life, Queridos.
It took that 4th grader until she was a Freshman in college to try Spanish again but she hasn’t stopped. Thank God for my willingness to learn in this stage. I’ve almost got it.
And just in case you landed here looking for the translation or definition of qué:
qué = what
qué (adjective) = what, which
¿qué hora es?
what time is it?
qué (pronoun) = what
what do you want?
Melanie Mendez-Gonzales is an online media entrepreneur and the creator of ¿Qué Means What? – a leading Latina lifestyle blog featuring cultura in entertainment – featuring Latinos in TV, movies and music; education – providing resources and highlighting Latinos in STEM; and family life – story-telling as a wife and a mom of boys.
¿Qué Means What? originally served as a platform where Melanie shared about the re-discovery of her Mexican-American heritage. Growing up, she felt a disconnection but she has turned this ‘culture identity crisis’ into a conversation that encourages others to celebrate their own culture in daily life.
Melanie has been named a 2015 Texas-based Bloggers to Follow by FlipKey by Trip Advisor; 2014 American Latino Expedition Influencer by National Park Foundation; a Top Bloguera by LATISM in 2014 and 2013; and an SA2020 ambassador for her city. She recently co-founded Texas Latino Bloggers – an online community to empower the Latino voices in Texas.