This post was contributed by Sathya Migdal.
I read a poem not too long ago on bilingual love. A latinx girl explaining the simple yet impactful effect words of affection had on her. And more importantly the added impact of the language they were delivered on.
It had been a while since I had felt so identified with something. For her, there seemed to be a lack of more words of affection in English, because in Spanish we have so many. Too many some might even add. We can get creative in Latin America, calling the people we love anything from my heart, my little sky or even my little donut. Seeing how she navigated through accepting that even if for her a babe would never be as impactful as corazón; for her English speaking partner that same “babe” was likely to be an incredible sign of affection, got me thinking a lot.
I experienced first hand how love transcends any barrier.
When you’re in a multicultural relationship, language becomes a huge aspect of it. And the tricky part is that often times people fail to realize how much language shapes their relationships.
I myself was guilty of it for sure.
For the longest time I navigated through language like a robot, because that was just the way my life worked. I experienced school in French, my family and friends would speak to me in Spanish and my inner monologues and deepest sentiments happened in English (something which clearly hasn’t changed a lot). I never put much thought into it because that’s just the way it was. And it was only until I moved abroad that I began to truly grasp what each language meant for me. Because I was finally allowing myself to dive into them consciously. And I started to understand the person I could be through each and every one of them.
Now Paris doesn’t really give you a choice when it comes to speaking French, you either dive in or Parisians will make you jump into it. But when love came into my life, unexpectedly as it often happens, I fell into an entirely new territory. Not only was I dealing with an array of new feelings that scared me shitless, but it was all happening in English. Against all odds even though she was French, our entire relationship from friends to something more happened mostly in English. And I’m sure you could imagine how relived this made me feel.
See from the moment I decided I was going to build a life abroad, I became aware that my partner was likely to be foreign. I was more than okay with the fact that in said instance English or French would probably become a bigger part of my life than my mother tongue. But there was something rather daunting about the latter. I genuinely still believe having a romantic relationship entirely in French would just be too much for me. It’s like for some reason there’s no in between in French and they’ll either wesh you forever or suddenly call you mon bébé d’amour after one kiss.
But that’s a story for another time.
Like I said, I had prepared myself for the multilingual exchanges and even fantasized about them, however I never anticipated how much I would miss receiving affection in Spanish. And then it all finally caught up to me.
As I was dealing with the intensity of falling in love for the first time, which we all know comes with its own set of drama and telenovela clichés, I found that my understanding of love was different in each language. Which by consequence overly complicated my expression of said feelings.
With English, everything was great and beautiful; and for someone who grew up watching every cheesy romantic comedy, to finally have somebody calling me baby & babe was quite the moment trust me. Most of our conversations and dynamics flew organically through English. However, I’ll never forget the first time she called me hermosa. I’d honestly be lying if I said I didn’t feel my heart skip a beat for a second. It came out of nowhere and it felt so right. I didn’t even remember saying it to her before. And then the day finally came for French to shine in all its glory. As we were walking down the seine I caught myself switching to French and calling her bébé. I’ve seen many smiles in my life but the one that exceeded from her face with that simple word felt like a mirror of my feelings when I heard her say hermosa.
Having each other acknowledge the other’s mother tongue within our relationship became so important for both of us. From French to English to Spanish, our relationship became a beautiful dance of sounds, each representing different feelings. And we both figured out the choreography together. Our whole dynamic shaped my understanding and relationship to love in an entirely different way. Because I learned how much I attached certain representations of love to a certain language.
I found that my understanding of love was different in each language.
I realized sentiments like anger and shame seemed to come easier in French. Nothing personal here, I’m guessing those overly rolled r’s just make for better dramatic arguments. Whereas my most vulnerable self got unwrapped entirely in English. As a hardcore Emily Dickinson fan this doesn’t come as a surprise.
English was the foundation of our relationship and Spanish became a much-needed treat. It was my moment of peace when everything was calm. To me it screamed – “I care and I hear you”. Because there’s something really special and heartwarming about a person showing they care about your roots.
I experienced first hand how love transcends any barrier – it’ll always find a way to be expressed. But love also finds pleasure in comfort, and I think that’s why having my partner try and use Spanish in our relationship was so powerful. It was my comfort zone, and she understood that, just like I knew I had to make of French a comfort zone for her.
So now, I seem to only be able to write poetry in English, mostly about love. Spanish is where I will always recharge and find my safe haven. And French became the language that gifted me with a kind of smile I’ll never forget.
Meet Sathya: A young Mexican Psych student living in Paris. Portrait photographer showcasing multiculturalism through a lens. Keep up with her on IG.