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But for me, a first-generation American of Hungarian and Irish descent born and raised in Chicago, learning to speak Spanish as an adult has not only affected my world, but opened up a whole new world. One that has allowed me to live the bi-cultural American experience usually reserved for U.S. Hispanics. And it has profoundly changed my life for the better.
Marrying my Puerto Rican wife was just the first step on my bi-cultural journey. Thanks to her, my life began to include new foods (rice and beans) and new music (salsa and merengue). A few years later, the advertising agency I worked for sent me to Venezuela and Puerto Rico where I not only had to learn a new language, but was exposed to a new world of customs, traditions and cuisine, but also an entirely new and incredibly rich world of entertainment filled with amazingly talented artists I’d never heard of. And an artform that would not only become a major part of my professional life, but one of the main vehicles to learning Spanish…the novela.
Arriving to Venezuela knowing only a few Spanish words (mostly found in menus), I spent my first week attending immersion classes at Berlitz before my workload prevented my continued attendance. So, I began watching a novela every day at lunchtime, then again in the evening, with my wife helping me to understand the stories. Little by little, I needed her help less and less, and eventually overcame my fear of speaking. When we moved back to Chicago, I continued to work on some Hispanic market accounts along with my regular duties. By the time I joined Univision some years later, I considered myself nearly bi-lingual…and most assuredly bi-cultural.
Now, after 23 years at Univision, I consider speaking Spanish to be one of the greatest gifts of my life. It has enriched my life in so many ways, not the least of which is how it enabled us to raise both our children as bi-lingual. It has allowed me to connect with so many people on a much deeper level than I ever could have done knowing English alone. I consider myself blessed and grateful to Spanish for letting me live the “best of both worlds.” And proud to say yo hablo USA.