How she became my Spanish teacher?

I had seen her a few times before, but every time I tried to make eye contact, she looked away. She would walk shyly behind her cleaning supply cart, and we would be like two strangers crossing paths in the hallway…I with my heavy, steady, and long steps and she with her soft, gentle and short steps. That day also, I passed by her, but then stopped and walked back.

“Hi, how are you?” Like a few times before, she looked the other way and moved towards the wall, but I persisted, “What is your name? I have seen you a couple of times before. You are new here. Right?” She smiled and told me that her name was Lupe. “Lupe!” I repeated and asked her about her work and family. Her English was limited but my Spanish was zero.  Finally, I said apologetically that I did not know Spanish, that I always wanted to learn it, but that I never found the time to do so.

And then, Lupe picked up a bottle from her cleaning cart, waved it in front of me and said, “Botella.” I smiled and repeated after her. Next she pointed to a paper and said, “Papel.” Her voice was firm and confident. I repeated the word twice. Next came “Escoba,” “Toalla,” and then she pointed to the peanuts in my hand and said, “Cacahuete.” At this point, I resisted and said, “Oh no, that is a difficult word. I could never remember that one.” Lupe immediately took a napkin from her cart and wrote down all five words for me. She handed me the paper and said something in Spanish which I understood to mean that I was to practice these words.

Amused, I took the paper, dropped it in my purse and thanked her. Lupe walked away, this time with steady steps. She was no longer a shy woman ready to blend into the landscape.

Three days later, I was at my desk engrossed in reading a legal document when I heard a soft knock. Here was Lupe with my assistant right behind her. Luckily, I had held and studied that napkin a few times while searching for other things in my purse. Lupe seemed very pleased with my progress and introduced new words–the different parts of the face. I struggled to repeat them, so she picked up a piece of paper from my desk and drew out the entire lesson. See it in the photo here.

Spanish Lesson

I realized then that Lupe was serious about my Spanish lessons, so I downloaded several Spanish apps on my iPhone. I thought I better start learning simple words on my own becasue Lupe’s lessons followed no logical progression and when it came to expecting results, she was merciless.

So, here I am…the same person who could never find time to learn Spanish is memorizing Lupe’s words while on the treadmill and while walking my dog! I am starting to see Spanish words everywhere in my surroundings. How come I had not noticed them before?

Last time I saw Lupe, I asked her if she enjoyed working at the University of Houston. With a twinkle in her eyes, she said, “Si, Tier One!” Thank you, Lupe. You are my Tier One teacher!


7 thoughts on “How she became my Spanish teacher?

  1. This is indeed a moving story. I also started brief exchanges with a gentle custodian in Agnes Arnold Hall. I am hispanic like him, but he also acts distant in front of ‘professors’. When I began stopping a couple of minutes to ask how he is doing, he face lighted up. Hispanic hard working people are used to be invisible, and are not used to be praised. We need to make sure they know how grateful we are for their good work, and their commitment to us.

  2. After an especially busy time I’m just catching up on your blog posts. This one about Lupe really moved me. So often, I see our cleaning support staff treated as non-entities. You point up how important it is to engage with ALL our fellow workers. One never knows from where a teaching moment will come!

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