Lost in Translation

The woman on the phone, speaking heavily accented Spanish, introduced herself as Consuela to Rebecca, the coordinator and translator for our bilingual group Mujeres Unidas en Fe (Women United in Faith). Consuela said that she wanted to visit the group and offer a Medicaid presentation. It seemed a little odd to Rebecca, as the current administration has drastically cut funding for public outreach around healthcare, North Carolina has refused to expand Medicaid coverage, and it is generally unavailable to persons who are undocumented. “I’ll bring a variety of options, and a gift for each of the women,” Consuela explained. “It will be a Medicaid party.”

From time to time we’ve hosted presentations about urgent issues such as legal rights, family emergency plans, and local law enforcement. Rebecca figured that perhaps there were healthcare options of which she was unaware. So she said yes to Consuela’s offer and arranged for her to come last week.Old woman

Juanita and I were the first to arrive. Rebecca approached us, laughing heartily. Clarity had dawned on her earlier that morning when Consuela had called back to confirm her visit. “You won’t believe what I’ve done,” Rebecca said, rolling her eyes. The others began to gather. And then Consuela breezed in, lugging two carry-on-size suitcases. She pulled out a palette and personal mirror-on-a-stand for each of us and set them up around the table. I was at my first “Mary Kay party.”

I confess to having little familiarity with the cosmetics company, having long ago decided that my eyelashes are long enough and my lips and cheeks are sufficiently red without investing a lot of time and money into them. I was pondering my discomfort with the scene when it grew quickly worse. With the deadline for filing extensions for DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) exactly a week away—and a great deal of anxiety and uncertainty swirling around because of the administration’s attacks on young DACA “Dreamers” who now fear deportation—Rebecca needed to meet individually with Mercedes, the mother of an undocumented college student. That left me as the best person to serve as translator for the six other English-speaking gringas—a rather pathetic state of affairs.

Consuela used a whole lot of words that never showed up in the Spanish dialogues I memorized in the ninth grade. With a lot of gesturing and a little help from my Spanish-speaking friends, I managed to come up with “exfoliant,” “moisturizer,” “freckles,” “wrinkles,” and “age spots.” But I couldn’t for the life of me figure out why she kept frowning and talking about a rooster.

Consuela had driven almost two hours from South Carolina to throw this party with products that were largely out of reach for most of us around the table. She got out of it a wonderful lunch of gorditas, tamales, chili, and flan—but few sales. It all felt rather absurd to me.

But on the drive back to Juanita’s home, I asked her how she felt about it. She touched the softened skin of her face and beamed a smile at me. She hadn’t felt so pampered in a very long time. Maybe it was better than a Medicaid party after all.

As I pulled up to her mobile home and her seven Chihuahuas encircled the car barking, I asked Juanita about the rooster. She laughed and pointed at the corners of her eyes. Patas de gallo—literally “rooster feet”—in English is, of course, “crow’s feet.” It refers to those lines that appear on our faces over time as a result of years of smiling. Though Consuela would have liked for us to spend a small fortune trying to erase them, I like to think of them as permanent and beautiful etchings of joy—with maybe a little wisdom thrown in.


6 thoughts on “Lost in Translation

  1. Thanks! What a lot of laughing we did trying to guess at what was being suggested in Spanish. Juanita’s daughter later shared how happy she was with the party and had her feel her smooth face.😉


  2. Too much in the world gets lost in translation, but so happy that the final product for your Thursday gathering was so appreciated.


  3. Oh, my … what a delicious story! Thanks for sharing it …. I’ll save the next two for tomorrow and the day after tomorrow. I have yet to attend a Mary Kay or a Tupperware party, but I’d have loved to be at your gathering those 6 years ago!


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