Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The American Maze: Popcorn for Everyone

Recently my Abuelo sponsored a few events for the children in the bilingual preschool program at Hispanic Unity,  our favorite organization which empowers new Americans with language skills, employment referrals and access to social services as they navigate the American maze. Thanks to excellent timing I was able to take my kids and visit his charity in action at Hispanic Unity.

The magician's program was for 10am, but we arrived at 10:05.  The staff snuck us into the room full of preschool kids. Abuelo, wearing a coat and tie, stayed standing for the show while the rest of us slipped down on too-small chairs and giggled. 

Don't ask me about all the specifics of the magician's act, I was quite busy not watching it by taking pictures and whispering. I do remember the part where the magician had a lizard that kept squirting water every time she turned her heads. One kid shouted out in an imperfect English translation of what was going on, "He is throwing the water at the kids!" A skinny pigtailed girl standing in the back of pack of kids explained whole scene in rapid quiet Spanish to a tiny  girl who couldn't see because of the taller kids in front of her.

The English-speaking magician moved on to part of her act with a magic coloring book. 

The kids play along and giggle. Most of them understand what she's asking them to do; a few turn to their neighbors with frowning faces. They fake their way through the normal kids-magic-show-craziness by doing what everyone else is doing, stomping their feet, waving their hands, shaking their heads. Our collective magic works, we fix the coloring book, and the magician moves on to the next part of her act.

There will be popcorn, she says, popcorn for everyone. 

The kids don't look too excited.

 The magician pulls out a clear container that when she flips one way it's filled with popcorn; when she flips it the other way all we can see is plain unpopped dried corn.

She keeps talking, saying something about how everyone could have popcorn after the show ends but how she couldn't find any corn to pop, then pretends not to see the popcorn become kernels of corn.

A little girl in the front, a tiny one, maybe even the one who had been sitting in the back a few minutes before, stands up and points at the container and announces, "Maiz!"

Her Spanish was so delicate and perfect you could hear the accent mark over the letter "i" - the one that makes the word sound like "ma-eeeez" instead of "maze."

A bunch of small powerful voices joined her, pointing and shouting in their perfect Spanish "ma-eeeez" at the suddenly terrified magician who was looking on the ground around her.

Mice? Mice? She asked the adults, not kidding, but keeping in her character but showing concern that there might be rodents swarming around her legs.

 A lesser person would've shrieked and jumped on a table, I'm sure. 

"Maiz means CORN" a bunch of kids translated loudly for her, laughing with her. 

That day those bilingual children all took a step forward right then, sticking together and navigating the American maze. (I hear there's popcorn for everyone at the end.)