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We just arrived back in South America today after six months to continue our travels here through northern Chile, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador and Colombia. This post felt fitting to publish now, since I was called ‘Señora’ at least five times today alone…
You don’t usually notice when something stops. Like the other night in New York when all of a sudden I got the hiccups and had them for over an hour – it wasn’t until halfway through my Thai food later that I noticed they were magically gone. Sure, there are things like blaring sirens or acute blinding pains whose end bring immediate relief, but for the most part, things have a tendency to slip away quietly without you ever really noticing the exact moment at all.
The disappearance of one simple, little, tiny syllable in my life happened much the same way. ‘Rita’ became simply. ‘Ra’. As in – we have gone from Señoritas to Señoras and I just wasn’t expecting that quite yet. At every bus station ticket counter and newspaper kiosk, paying the bill at a restaurant or checking in to any hotel I now hear ‘gracias señora’ or ‘have a good day señora’.
I couldn’t tell you the first time someone referred to me as Señora, just like people don’t remember that first ever gray hair or that first wrinkle. I probably laughed it off. But soon, it snowballs and before you know it, you have a full head of gray hair. In exactly this way, we are both now undeniably Señoras.
The first time I can remember it really hitting home was when an acquaintance was talking to a mutual friend and actually referred to me ‘the señora who travels the world full time.’ Ouch… She wasn’t just a stranger. She knew me and therefore actually thought of me as a señora.
You might wonder why this little linguistic shift matters to me, since I am not even natively from a Spanish speaking country. I have been either living in or traveling to Latin America for over half my life, in every phase of it except for early childhood. I have done little bits of high school and longer parts of college here, I got my first ‘real’ job here and we have spent nearly two years traveling here as GlobetrotterGirls, too.
I just wonder what changed so obviously that there are no longer even a few ‘señorita’ mentions left? And that this is clear across every Latin American country we travel through. Has youth been so obviously zapped out of us?
In the English speaking world, the line is clear: you are a Ms. until you get married and then you are a Mrs. No such line exists in Spanish. You are a Señorita until you aren’t. Ring or no ring, every woman becomes a Señora while the men in both cultures cruise blissfully along as Mister and Señor from the time their voices drop. For men, there is no culturally constructed border between phases of their lives.
It’s not like I didn’t know this was coming. As women, we know society has a drawn a line in the sand and that some day strangers will begin referring to us as ma’am or señora. I just always pictured this to be during the same phase when people stand up and give me their seat on the bus. I would be a beautiful señora with long, silver hair spilling down onto a loose sweater and flowing linen pants. I would be wearing lots of turquoise and silver jewelry inspired by my California-based great aunt who has sold Native American jewelry as long as I have been alive. That is the ‘señora’ version of myself I had always pictured – and still do. And I am nowhere near that lovely lady just yet.
Here I am, Señora Jessica, not even mid-way through my 30s and in better shape than the entire decade before. I’ve never felt more alive, or had more energy. Is warping into this brave new Señora world not the death sentence I had imagined it to be in my 20s?
Although it came earlier than I expected, becoming a señora is nothing more than an indication of maturity and to be honest, I am relieved and proud that Dani and I are both so satisfied with life during this phase.
Much more important than realizing the last hiccup has come and gone, I only wish I would have been more aware of those ‘señorita’ moments as they were slowly, and permanently, disappearing.
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