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  • Claire Ziamandanis

Her Name Was Eva

She arrived in my hometown of Weedsport, NY in September that year, as an exchange student; she does not know that she marked my life

"NY Weedsport 1885" by is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Her name was Eva. I am certain that she does not realize she is the reason I am where I am now, 40 years later.

Eva arrived in my hometown of Weedsport, NY in September that year. She was one of two exchange students in school, and Weedsport being about as large as the name implies, we all got to know our exchange students. New faces did not come by often.

I was in upper-level Spanish class that year, and Eva was placed in that class. She was from Mexico, from a well to do family that bred bulls for bullfighting. It was just about as exotic as you can imagine for small towners like us. Of course, I wanted to be her friend.

While I can no longer remember what was discussed in our long conversations mostly in Spanish, I do remember her sharing with me details about stark cultural differences, most jarring to me being the physical, mental, and emotional control her father wielded. Her insistence on studying abroad in high school was a barely cloaked attempt to escape that control. We learned later that distance didn’t matter; papá was still running the show.

"Eva, it turned out, had a wicked sense of humor (...) Eva, it turned out, also had a very controlling father"

I do remember quite clearly one day that Eva was at my house. I was increasingly comfortable maintaining lengthier conversations in Spanish. Eva cracked a joke about something, and it was the kind of joke that pulled out a great belly laugh from me.

That was my moment.

Detail of Eva's yearbook picture

We had been speaking Spanish for over an hour, and I did not feel I was struggling, overthinking verb tenses, walking through the 35 odd rules for por vs. para, or completely stressing out over the subjunctive tense. But now I was laughing! In Spanish!

Eva, it turned out, had a wicked sense of humor.

Eva, it turned out, also had a very controlling father, as I mentioned. Weedsport being Weedsport, we had some redneck-y traditions, like thinking it would be cool to paint our class year on cows, or sneaking out to bonfires at the quarry. Somehow papá found out, and had Eva moved to a different school district, 300 miles away.

The laughs ended early that year, but the course of my life changed, thanks to Eva and her sense of humor. Laughter influences how I teach: learning a language is learning to see things through different cultural and linguistic lenses, often leading to endless opportunities for laughs. I’ve got some doozies of my own, linguistic missteps that are way too funny to feel ashamed about.

I wish I could thank Eva. I wish I could catch up with her and share new laughs. She has no idea just how pivotal she was in my life.



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