A six-paneled comic that was part of a composition exercise I completed for the Spanish Language Diagnostic Exam at Northwestern University. Essentially, I had to write a narrative based on the comic. The result was equal parts cringeworthy and hilarious, but I still managed to pass the exam.

Una cuenta bien que escribí en español por un examen para evaluar cómo escribo en español (“An Okay Story that I Wrote in Spanish for an Exam to Evaluate How I Write in Spanish”)

Kellen Aguilar Family, Graduate School, Humor, Personal Leave a Comment

Which is the more difficult language to learn: English or Spanish? These meme presents one view on the issue.

Some people get their kicks from going to the movies on a work night. Some people get their jimmies rustled by jumping out of an airplane at 18000ft without a parachute. Me? I’m somewhere in the middle between mundane irresponsibility and extreme airborne stunts.

Like that time I was taking a four hour language diagnostic exam and it inadvertently turned into a drafting session for the pilot episode of a subpar Spanish soap opera.

Some Remarks on My Race, My Family, and Karate

Let me preface the pathetic result of five plus years of formal Spanish education below by disclaimer-ing that I have a quirky relationship with the Spanish language. Let’s just put it all out there: I’m a passing Asian-Mexican-American. On the surface, I look white (my skin is anyway, and my paternal grandmama does hail from Manchester, England), though if you or I squint, you could probably wager a nice bet that I’m hapa (asian mixed). On paper, I’m Mexican — my last name is Aguilar, the post-WWII, love-at-first-sight product of my paternal grandfather immigrating to the U.S. from Mexico and meeting my grandmother at the Los Angeles bank where she worked. In truth, I’m more asian than anything else as my mother is full Japanese (although she gets mistaken for being Chicana or Philippina more often than not). Now, as much as I’d love to be a walking, talking symbol for the merits of multiculturalism, I am fairly apple-pie-and-fireworks-on-the-Fourth-of-July Americanized. I’m Sansei (third) generation Japanese, third generation Mexican, and third generation English. The only thing spoken in my household is a bastardized form of the Queen’s English, injected with Southern California-isms, text speak (“EL OH EL”), and bad, bad vocal fry.

That’s not to say that my family is so whitewashed that we should get green-lighted for our own sitcom on ABC. Whereas my English grandmother was “grandma,” my Japanese grandmother was “Baba” (to my child ears, it sounded like “bahn-bahn”). Baba knew how to speak Japanese, and though she didn’t speak it very much after Jiji died, she’d grunt out the occasional “shoku shoi” in protest at her aching arthritic joints. Karate was a major part of my uncle’s life. He studied at a dojo under a guy I only ever heard referred to as Sensei, but who I later found out was the famous karate grandmaster and Hollywood stunt double Fumio Demura (The Island of Doctor Moreau, Karate Kid, Rising Sun). My paternal grandfather speaks Spanish and reportedly tried to pass down the language to his children, but it never took (something about them not being very good pupils, which kind of kills me because here I am trying to learn Spanish by writing what amounts to bad fan fiction). I love Mexican food. I love Japanese food. Correlation? Causation? Nature? Nurture? Not sure, never will be sure.

A photograph from my post-graduation celebration at El Cholo Restaurant in Whittier, CA. Both the Aguilar and Murashige clans are represented. I graduated from Whittier College in 2016.

A photograph from my post-graduation celebration at El Cholo Restaurant in Whittier, CA. Both the Aguilar and Murashige clans are represented.

The official trailer for the 2016 documentary, The Real Miyagi, about the life and career of Fumio Demura. My uncle trained closely with Demura when he was younger. In my family, Demura is often simply referred to as Sensei.

Wayne Murashige poses in traditional samurai dress with katana (left). Fumio Demura and Wayne Murashige are quoted alongside each other in Black Belt Magazine, October 1979 (right).

Left: A photograph in the October 1979 edition of Black Belt Magazine of my uncle, Wayne Murashige, posing with a katana in traditional samurai dress. Wayne earned his black belt under the mentorship of karate grandmaster and famous Hollywood stunt double, Fumio Demura. Right: Demura and Wayne are quoted alongside each other in Black Belt Magazine.

This is all to say that my racial makeup has gotten me into some pretty funny situations. There was that one time that I applied for the Leadership Alliance’s Summer Research Early Identification Program and, by Jove, actually got placed at Harvard. Mid-celebratory-champaign-cork-pop I get a phone call from the faculty member that I was paired with. Turns out this professor studies “Latin American vanguard poetry” and is ever-so-happy to be able to work with me and have me help her translate—

*Record scratch*.

Wait. How did I, the village idiot of Spanish Conversation 212, get paired with a professor whose main research focus was translating and interpreting avant-garde Spanish language poetry?

{Cue theme from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire}

  1. In my application I explained that my research focus is the intersection of race and gender in Ernest Hemingway’s Africa short stories. X
  2. Under year in school, I wrote “Junior.” X
  3. Under name, I wrote “Kellen Aguilar”…. √

Oh. I “C” what happened.

So suffice it to say that I did not live out my Good Will Hunting fantasy that summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Here’s another funny situation:

CUT TO:

INT. DENTIST’S OFFICE, PATIENT ROOM — DAY

CAT MAN JONES sits in a dentist’s chair while DEBBIE THE DENTIST applies fluoride to his fangs for his bi-annual cleaning.

DEBBIE THE DENTIST: So Cat Man, what’s your post-graduate plan?

CAT MAN JONES {slurring because of massive dental tools in his maw}: Wurr, I prawry goin tur ply fo grad schurr.

DEBBIE THE DENTIST: Graduate school, huh? Ya know, my daughter went to graduate school.

CAT MAN JONES: Reary? Fo wut?

DEBBIE THE DENTIST: Well, initially, she was thinking of going for a Ph.D in biochemistry. But that didn’t really pan out so she mastered out of her program and got an MBA instead.

CAT MAN JONES: Arr, okah. Wha din’it urk owt?

DEBBIE THE DENTIST {chuckling good-naturedly}: Oh, well, she’d kill me for saying this but the math just got to be too much for her. She’d tell me, “Mom, all of these asians in my program are doing so well, they just pick up everything so easily! Meanwhile, I can barely keep up.”

CAT MAN JONES: …

DEBBIE THE DENTIST: Isn’t it funny how that’s so true? There’s just something that makes them so naturally good at numbers and equations. Even in middle school, even when they’re young, they’re just like little kamikazes at math!

CAT MAN JONES {chokes violently on excess saliva, passes out}

FADE OUT

I eventually shared this story at a conference session on “micro-aggressions.” To be honest, I find situations like my above experience at the dentist to be at best hilarious and at worst slightly uncomfortable. Perhaps the former speaks to my messed up sense of humor. Perhaps the latter has something to do with the giant ice pick my dentist was using to probe around in my mouth. In any event, my experience is apparently not uncommon; at the conference, my story was received with many an incredulous gasp, followed by knowing nods of approval and finger-snapping displays of emotional support. I only wish that I had thought to send around a collections basket, or given a link to my Patreon — for healing purposes, of course.

Anyways, back to our regularly scheduled programming. Below, I present to you, raw and unedited: “El suéter del infierno.”

“El suéter del infierno”

*Note: The instructions for this part of the language exam were pretty straightforward. Essentially, I was given a set amount of time to compose a narrative based on a six-paneled comic. The number of each paragraph in my story corresponds to a panel of the comic (e.g. 1-1, 2-2, etc.)

A six-paneled comic that was part of a composition exercises I completed for the Spanish Language Diagnostic Exam at Northwestern University. Essentially, I had to write a narrative base on the comic. The result was equal parts cringey and hilarious, but I still managed to pass the exam.

A six-paneled comic that was part of a composition exercise I completed for the Spanish Language Diagnostic Exam at Northwestern University. Essentially, I had to write a narrative based on the comic. The result was equal parts cringeworthy and depressing.

1.
“Hola Señor, ¿Como estás? ¿Estás listo?” dijo Juan, el empleado de Express. “Sí, gracias,” respondió Pedro, quien era haciendo compras al centro comercial. La fiesta de Susana fue esa noche y Pedro quiso hacer un impresión con ropas nuevas, especialmente porque la amiga bonita de Susana, Natasha, estaría ahí. Pedro las puso sus cosas en frente de Juan cuando, del rincón de su ojo, vio un suéter fabuloso. Este suéter tuvo dos colores — azul y blanco — y, en la mente de Pedro, fue el boleto a la corazón de Natasha. Pedro empezó imaginando que chale luciría Él en ese suéter. “¿Cuánto cuesta?” dijo Pedro, apuntando un dedo al suéter. Fue sólo un formalidad; el precio no le importa a Pedro.

2.
La fiesta de Susana fue un desastre. Pedro estaba esperando que su suéter nueve ganaría la atención de Natasha. Como lo sucedió, incluso antes de llegó a la fiesta, Pedro tuvo un accidente en su casa con una copa de vino tinto que dejó su suéter destruido casi completamente. Entonces, cuando Pedro llegó a la fiesta, halló que Natasha fue ahí con su cita, un hombre musculoso con pelo rubio se llamó Fabiano. Por lo duración de la fiesta, Pedro pretendió que no era llorando en su interno.

3.
De hecho, Natasha fue afuera de la liga de Pedro, pues entre Él y Fabiano, hubo no concurso. El día próximo, Pedro no tuvo intención nada de salir de su casa porque su avergüenza fue tan grande. Sin Natasha, lo sólo que tuvo Pedro en el mundo fue su suéter. Sentando en su sofa, mirando la televisión, le dio cuenta que su suéter estuvo sucio. Esta realización casi rompió el espíritu de Pedro sin posibilidad de reparación. Pero en aquel momento exacto, se apareció un anuncio en la tele por una marca de sopa se llamó “El Limpio.” De acuerdo con el hablador del anuncio: “¿Has tenido un recién accidente con vino tinto? ¡No problema! El Limpio es la sola marca de sopa que debería confiar. ¡El Limpio es la solución a todos sus preocupaciones! ¡Cómprelo Hoy!” Con una mirada del anuncio a su suéter pobrecito, Pedro sentió una resuelta nueva.

4.
Después de visitando Costco y comprando (por Pedro, la frase más apta fue “haciendo un inversión en”) “El Limpio,” Pedro hizo rumba a su lavandería local. Se acercó a una lugar libre y empezó el proceso de limpiar sus ropas. Pedro miró a su suéter con una mezcla de tristeza, cuidad, y esperanza. “Quizá no puedo tener Natasha,” pensó Pedro a sí mismo, “pero tú, mi cariño suéter, siempre tendré tú.” Y con ese, Pedro echó su suéter con el supuesto mágico de “El Limpio.”

5.
Pedro se quedó con paciencia hasta que el proceso limpiador se terminó. De manera entusiasmado, Pedro agarró su suéter… pero algo muy mal ha ocurrido. Pedro se puso lo más enojado que nunca en su vida cuando le dio cuenta lo que hubo sucedido…

6.
“¡Dios mío! ¡Este es loco! ¡Quiero mi dinero! ¡Quiero compensación!” Y como así para muchos minutos más. “El Limpio” hubo cumplido su trabajo demasiado bien y quitó totalmente el color del suéter de Pedro. Pero este hecho no importa a Pedro. Lo cual empezó como un semana que prometió diversión ya fue empeorando cada segundo, y Pedro necesitó a soltar su emociones en alguna persona (en este caso, el gerente de la lavandería).

Mientras, Natasha y Fabiano fueron haciendo compras al centro comercial. En una tienda se llamó “Express,” Natasha vio un suéter de colores blanco y azul, y le dijo a Fabiano, “¡qué guapo lucirá en este mi amor!”

“The Sweater from Hell,” Translated First Ed.

I know the issue of translating great non-English literature like “El suéter del infierno” into English is a polarizing topic, at least in the totally unironically “woke” world of academics and culture critics. Something is almost always certainly lost in translation. But, alas, when it comes to blogging, sometimes linguistic sensitivity must take a back seat to SEO. Therefore, may I present the first translated edition of, “The Sweater from Hell.”

A six-paneled comic that was part of a composition exercises I completed for the Spanish Language Diagnostic Exam at Northwestern University. Essentially, I had to write a narrative base on the comic. The result was equal parts cringey and hilarious, but I still managed to pass the exam.

1.
“Hi sir, how are you? Are you ready?,” said Juan, an employee at Express. “Yes, thank you,” replied Pedro, who was doing some shopping at the mall. Susana’s party was that night and Pedro wanted to make an impression with some new clothes, especially because Susana’s hot friend, Natasha, would be there. Pedro put his items in front of Juan when, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a fabulous sweater. This sweater had two colors — blue and white — and, in Pedro’s mind, it was the ticket to Natasha’s heart. Pedro began imagining how dashing he would look in that sweater. “How much does it cost?” asked Pedro, pointing a finger at the sweater. It was only a formality; the price did not matter to Pedro.

2.
Susana’s party was a disaster. Pedro was hoping that his new sweater would win Natasha’s attention. As it happened, even before he arrived at the party, Pedro had an accident in his house with a cup of red wine that left his sweater almost completely ruined. Then, when Pedro arrived at the party, he discovered that Natasha was there with her date, a muscle-bound man with blonde hair named Fabiano. For the rest of the party, Pedro pretended that he wasn’t crying on the inside.

3.
In fact, Natasha was out of Pedro’s league, so there never really was any competition between him and Fabiano. But the next day, Pedro had no intention at all of leaving his house because his shame was so great. Without Natasha, the only thing that Pedro had left in the world was his sweater. Seated on his sofa, watching the television, he remembered that his sweater was stained and ruined. This realization almost broke Pedro’s spirit beyond repair. But in that exact moment, a commercial appeared on the television for a brand of detergent called “The Cleaner.” According to the advertiser: “Have you had a recent accident with red wine? No problem! The Cleaner is the only brand of detergent that you should trust. The Cleaner is the solution to all of your worries! Buy it today!” With one look at his poor sweater, Pedro felt a newfound resolve.

4.
After visiting Costco and buying (for Pedro, the more appropriate phrase was “making and investment in”) The Cleaner, Pedro rushed over to his local laundromat. He approached an unoccupied spot and began the process of cleaning his clothes. Pedro looked at his sweater with a mix of sadness, care, and hope. “Maybe I can’t have Natasha,” though Pedro to himself,” but you, my lovely sweater, I will always have you.” And with this, Pedro threw his sweater in with the supposed magic of The Cleaner.

5.
Pedro waited with patience until the cleaning process finished. Enthusiastically, Pedro grabbed his sweater… but something very bad had occurred. Pedro became more angry than he had ever been in his entire life once he realized what had happened…

6.
“My God! This is ridiculous! I want my money back! I want compensation!” And so on for many minutes more. The Cleaner had done its job too well and totally removed the color form Pedro’s sweater. But this fact did not matter to Pedro. What began as a week that promised fun was worsening each passing second, and Pedro needed to unleash his feelings on somebody (in this case, the manager of the laundromat).

Meanwhile, Natasha and Fabiano were shopping at the mall. In a store called Express, Natasha saw a white and blue sweater, and said to Fabiano, “How handsome you would look in this my love!”

* * *

I only wish that more of my Spanish exams in high school and college had taken this format. By now, I would already be accepting my Nobel Prize and planning my retirement and subsequent, unexpected coming-out-of-retirement. I must also admit to squandering at least fifteen minutes of test time trying to decipher what happened between panels four and six — the detergent looks like it did its job, so why is the main guy pissed off? I realize now that the detergent shrunk his sweater. In any case, both my story and my story’s source material end with the main character acting like a jackass to some underserving service worker. I like to think of it as a cautionary tale — when life throws you micro-aggressions, keep calm and read the instructions on your detergent before using it.

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