So, not sure if you guys have noticed this yet, but I’m a bit of a socially awkward nerd.
You’d think that I’d get it together for my Zumba classes, since I have to stand up in front of classes of 10-40 people oh…eight times a week now, but I don’t.
I giggle and make awkward conversation. Then my warm-up starts and it inevitably has some super nerdly (see: AMAZING) song in the mix, like Beastie Boys or Run DMC (see; THE BEST). And maybe when I teach I’m like, a super nerdly dancer. I actually have no idea, because I’ve never seen myself teach. I know how I feel when I teach, and that is super into it. Like, having the best time ever.
Anyway, what I’m trying to say is that maybe I come across as really “white,” whatever the fuck that means.
DISCLAIMER: This post is in no way a slight at the girl involved. I just found the whole experience to be so fascinating and it made me think about how we see people. I’ve been wanting to write about this for ages, but I never wanted her to feel offended. I know she used to read my blog at one point. Just in case she still does, I want to be clear. No offense intended and no offense felt on my part. (Well, okay, a little at first, for a couple days. But that’s long gone.)
SIDENOTE: See? Super nerdly.
SIDENOTE TO THE SIDENOTE: That’s my phrase of the day and I love it.
ANOTHER SIDENOTE: That photo is an outtake from my photo shoot with the amazing Christina Louise. Check her out and hire her.
Let’s get back on track.
I was teaching a class. I was still pretty new to teaching – within my first six months or so. I was already starting to become Facebook friends with some of my regular students, which is cool. I had been befriended by a girl from Brazil. I guess I had never mentioned that my background is 100% Portuguese.
One of my favourite songs from my playlist at the time is called “Aqui para Voçes” (which translates directly into “Here for You”) by a Portuguese/Angolan group called Buraka Som Sistema. It’s a crazy techno/rap/dance something or other, with lyrics performed by a Brazilian carioca musician named Deize Tigrona.
So. The lyrics are Portuguese. So I know what they mean. I sing along to them because I have them memorized. That’s what I did during my class, but I guess this girl didn’t notice that. I guess some of the lyrics of the song may also take on a different meaning depending what region you’re from/what type of Portuguese you speak. After consulting a number of Portuguese-speaking peeps, no one heard anything dirty in the song, but maybe if I asked another 10 people, someone would hear it that way.
Later on, I got onto Facebook and saw a status from this girl, written in Portuguese, that was expressing shock over the song. I’m totally paraphrasing here, but it said something along the lines of You guys wouldn’t believe what I heard in my Zumba class today…blah blah song…it’s hilarious when people dance to music they don’t understand the context of…where do people come up with these shitty lyrics?
SIDENOTE: This is a total digression, but I have to say, even interpreting the lyrics the dirty way, I’ve heard MUCH WORSE in English songs. Like, any song on the radio. Never mind all the diiiiiiirty naughty dirty Spanish stuff Zumba uses!
The thing that really struck me about the whole situation was the assumption that I had no idea what was going on. I mean, in all fairness, yeah, maybe lots of instructors have no idea what the lyrics of the Latin songs they use mean. I use a lot of Bollywood and Bhangra songs and I don’t know all of the lyrics (for the record, I typically Google it so that I at least know they’re not filthy). I don’t think you HAVE to know what the lyrics mean if you’re feeling the music. It’s not a job requirement.
But why the assumption?
I’m not gonna lie, for a while, I was sort of offended. I’m proud of my Portuguese background. I treasure the connections I have to Africa, Brazil, and Portugal. Teaching Zumba has actually strengthened that connection, too. Dancing and singing along to Portuguese music I love is a way for me to embrace who I am. So I was hurt that someone might look at me and not see that.
Would you assume she speaks Portuguese? Maybe not.
But in the same vein, why assume I don’t? (According to what people think of my face, I could speak a million languages.)
Lesson learned: When you “assume,” you really do make “an ass out of ‘u’ and ‘me.'” It’s 2013. Gay white couples adopt Asian babies and teach them how to speak German. Or something. You know what I mean.
P.S. Besides, knowing how to speak Portuguese gives me super powers. Just check out this hilarious article by Kayla.
P.P.S. See also:
…and so on.