I stopped counting the days a while ago, after a half-hearted attempt at ticks on a calendar to keep track. At first it had been a bit of a game: how many of these conversations would I overhear before I lost and missed a day on my calendar? But soon enough I lost track of how many days in a row I’d heard Spanish on the street after leaving Peru, and the game fizzled out on its own.
At first, it was just a day or two that went by without the check marks I’d been making on my calendar, and eventually it came to feel like a chore, so I stopped marking the days altogether.
I didn’t need to put pen on paper to know that even if I didn’t hear Spanish on the street that day, I would hear Arabic, Chinese, or one of the many other languages spoken here.
New York is a city of immigrants, after all, and the streets show it, with the foreign accents and foreign languages fighting to make themselves heard over the car horns and the screech of the wheels as the subway slows into the station.
Inside the car, Mexican singers fill the space with the sounds of guitar a Spanish love song as we roll from one stop to the next.
Maybe I’m simply more attuned to hearing foreign languages than I was in high school, the last time I was in New York for so long, but I am convinced that there is less English now than ever before. If it’s not the couple chatting next to me on the bus in Spanish, it’s the woman on the phone with her mother passing me on the sidewalk; as I reach the end of my fourth month stateside, I can’t remember a day when I didn’t hear Spanish.
Of course, this may only be because of the evolution of my relationship with New York since I graduated. Instead of staying in a pretty small area near my apartment and my school, I am now visiting many new parts of the city as I move from student to student as part of my freelance tutoring gigs.
For example, for the first time in my life, I am now making regular trips through northern Manhattan, an area dominated by Dominicans, on my way to a student who lives in New Jersey.
When I first stepped off of the subway in Washington Heights, my eyes lit up: there were plantains for sale from stands on the street, Latin music boomed from speakers, and food trucks sold empanadas. That first day, I smiled quietly to myself as I walked to the bus stop, hearing familiar accents, and decided with a grimace that I would not have time to stop for a snack that day.
Washington Heights is a great example of one of the many neighborhoods where English is rarely heard, but there are so many Spanish speakers in New York that for a moment, here and there, it almost seems like I never left Latin America.
It may only be the words spoken in a passing conversation, but I’m always a little happier when I remember that Latin America is never too far away.