I was running late for school when I first heard that phrase. In my regular life I often run late, anyway. But throw in the profound inconsistency of the Guadalajara bus system (only in this city you can start out 20 minutes early and STILL arrive at school 15 minutes late) and everything goes to hell.
That means that on the lucky days where taxis are available, I sometimes take one. In this case, I had given up on the 629 bus ever appearing and hopped into a cab waiting in the seething traffic that backs up to my shady street every morning. The cabbie eyed my white skin, immediately claimed that his meter was out of order, and demanded 70 pesos (about $5.50) for the ride. (Maybe I should be fairer to him: maybe he was the type to try to fleece everyone.) I may have only been living in this city for 2 weeks, but veteran of the broken transport system that I was even I knew that the cost should only be 40 pesos. I told him this; he offered 60. Forty, I said, or I'll find another cab.
Which is how I found myself standing in front a long line of honking automobiles approximately 100 meters from where I'd started. I'd just turned to walk toward the city when I heard, "Senorita!" A second cabbie was leaning out his window, a young woman in the backseat. He explained that this woman was heading somewhere close by: would I like to hop in, and he would take me wherever I'd wanted after we dropped off our primary cargo?
We wheeled through the city, dodging stop signs and weaving through stop lights, all the while keeping up a brisk patter of Mexican slang I could only vaguely understand. At one point, in the midst of all the chaos, the cabbie's cell phone rang. "Bueno!" he said, in the typical Jaliscan greeting. "Si, soy yo."
The phrase, which means "Yes, I am me," quickly struck my fancy. Of course, taken in the same answering-phone context, the American "This is he/she" is no less odd or nonsensical. But regardless of the usage, I liked "Si, soy yo" immediately. In Anthropology, there's much talk of language having the power to shape an individual's world view. In this particular instance, I thought, the cabbie was reconfirming, and recreating, his identity every time he answered the phone.
At the intersection of Madero and Enrique Martinez I paid my 40 pesos and hopped out, scampering into class a mere 13 minutes late. I probably wouldn't have given the whole thing much further thought, but for two reasons:
1) "Si, soy yo" is a common telephone greeting here in Guadalajara, and once I started hearing it I couldn't stop.
2) Soon after I encountered my own incidence of language/identity dynamics
I should say that I've never aspired to be a teacher. From a young age writing was everything I wanted, although once I got to college Anthropology joined my interests, jostling with my older career ambitions for space. I've always loved the English language, and all the things I can do with it, but teaching never called to me. It wasn't until I spent last year almost exclusively with people speaking English as a second, third, or fourth language-- and until much of my discussions with those people centered on the quirks and mysteries of my mother tongue-- that I thought I might enjoy making a job out of it.
I arrived in Guadalajara with writing tutor experience but nothing else. I'd never made a lesson plan. I knew nothing about learning methodology. I'd taught people things before, for sure, but had never gone beyond. I had never pictured myself in a classroom. I had never graded an exam.
Much has been said about the moment a med student becomes a doctor. Is it when he/she dons a white coat for the first time? A first patient? A first death? All I know is that on my first day in the classroom I introduced myself. In classic school style, I wrote my name on the board in clear print. "My name is Ms. Greenberg," I said. And as I said it, my decade and a half of public school education kicked in. Giving yourself a new name is a powerful thing, especially a name with such strong connotations. "My name is Ms. Greenberg" was all it took: just like that, I was a teacher.
Nothing changed, really; or rather, nothing was there that hadn't been before. In the coming hours of practice teaching I found enthusiasm and humor to temper grammar mechanics. I experienced a sweet satisfaction in seeing dawning comprehension on the faces of students who moments ago did not understand the difference between "might" and "will" or simple past and past participle tenses. I wasn't a new person, but I was something I hadn't been before. The words, the style of address so unique to schooling, were that powerful.
A few days later I was out for drinks with some classmates from my training program. Lesson planning was seeming less alien. I wasn't getting jittery before teaching so much anymore. As we toasted with Coronas, I corrected somebody's grammar, and we all laughed. "I can't help it," I said without thinking, "I'm a teacher!"
Si, soy yo...