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Jessie González, whose parents are both Peruvian immigrants, clutched her knees and rocked herself on a tile bathroom floor.

Jessie González, whose parents are both Peruvian immigrants, clutched her knees and rocked herself on a tile bathroom floor.

“Rebaja…rebaja…rebaja…” she muttered, staring unblinkingly at an adjacent wall.

González, a 27-year-old product manager, experienced a psychological breakdown in a local coffee shop while catching up with three Chilean friends. Midway through the conversation, one companion complimented her dress and asked if she bought it online.

González laughed winningly and responded, “No. La compré en una tienda. Estaba en…” before drawing a complete blank for the Spanish translation of “sale.”

Her eyes widened in horror as the bilingual machinery in her head worked franticly to recall the word. She plumbed old conversations and Spanish lessons while a clock on the wall marked the agonizing seconds. Each tick thundered across the room, reverberating into her bones. Her South American associates stared questioningly at her pained demeanor, and then at themselves.

This minor embarrassment soon warped into a psycho-ethnic catastrophe. Devastating thoughts crept into her head, further hindering her attempt to remember the word. What kind of Latina couldn’t even use basic Spanish vocabulary? They knew she was a fraud. This was why her cousins made fun of her accent. Her ancestors were probably disowning her from the grave. Who was she? What was she? Was there any place for her?

Straining under the impossible linguistic pressure, and after sitting in complete silence for 45 seconds, González snapped. She walked straight out of the coffee shop and three miles through a rainstorm without stopping for traffic or other pedestrians. She reached her apartment in a daze and locked herself in the bathroom.

After two hours in cultural perdition, González gingerly opened the bathroom door. She found her roommate, Emilia Álvaro, huddled in a fetal position on the couch, where she had lain since forgetting the Spanish word for “ribs” during a conversation with her Mexican mother.

González smiled sadly, climbed onto the couch, and spooned her friend.

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Andrew OtazoAndrew Otazo

'Miami Creation Myth' author Andrew Otazo has advised officials on Cuba policy, worked for the Mexican president, fired a tank, and ran with 30lbs of trash.

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