By Audrey Bellis
Audrey Bellis owns The Bella Bambino, a family owned, special occasion children’s boutique, available online and by appointment in Los Angeles & Manhattan.
My mom is the youngest of 6. All my aunts and uncles and their families live within a 30 minute drive. With a family that large and very close knit (too close at times) conflicts are bound to arise. Growing up, our house was Switzerland- always neutral. From the time I was a little girl, I always remember my mom, grandma, and aunts congregating in our kitchen over a fresh batch of my mom’s cookies or pan dulce (Mexican sweet bread) and strong pot of coffee.
I was one of THOSE kids- you know the kind, can’t wait to sit at the grown up table, wear high heels and feel like a big girl. Instead of playing with my cousins or little sister- I used to go sit at the adult table and listen in on the latest family gossip. Who brought home a new significant other? Who is pregnant? Who didn’t extend an invite to such and such? Etc…
One of my uncles dubbed this “el rincon de chisme” which translates to “the gossip corner”. Whenever my aunts got together (pretty much weekly if not more often) I knew that I could climb into my mom’s lap or an available chair and drink café con leche (half coffee/ half milk) and listen in. It dawned on the ladies early on that this probably wasn’t a good idea as I was at an age where I could repeat what I heard and it probably wouldn’t be things some people wanted repeated.
Whenever my aunts had something they didn’t want us to know they would switch from Spanish to another language- the kind that baffled us as kids. Piglatin! In SPANISH!!! It works the same way as in English except that in between the vowels you insert an “ifi”, “tufo”, “ofo”, “sifi” or “efe”. Talk about sounding like gibberish to the untrained ear. It baffled and frustrated me.
One day sitting at the table while they were teasing me in their “secret language” it dawned on me that one of my aunts was taunting me. She was looking right at me and laughing. I strained my ear, furrowed my brow and stared back. In between the gibberish I could extrapolate a few words. I managed to piece together that she was saying something to the effect of “look at her struggle to understand” and I responded back defiantly with: “I can TOO understand!” It brought silence and then suddenly a burst of laughter from the other ladies. The jig was up!
They let me in on the secret and I learned how to speak it just like them. We still use it when we don’t want others around to know what we’re saying, only now I’m part of the inside joke. 20 years have passed, and I still join my aunts in the kitchen for chisme time. My best friend and I have Skype dates from across the country with our coffee and pan dulce and we use our Spanish (sometimes our piglatin when necessary) to get caught up on the latest and greatest. I don’t often hear other people use that type of Spanish Piglatin or Jeringonza as some regions of Mexico call it (although they use a P in between their vowels) but it warms my heart nonetheless and feels like home.