by Gabriel Lopez Kafati
Losing my vision in a Hispanic household gave me enough material for a “telenovela.” The Catholic influence brought forth the expectation of a miracle cure and the notion that blindness was a punishment. My culture also gave me a solid support system. Hispanic families are known to stick together no matter what! My parents held my hand throughout every step. They taught me to never give up; to put effort into everything; and to always have faith.
As my vision loss became more obvious, I experienced my culture in a unique way. Loved ones went out of their way to show their support. They tried to hold me while I walked; they celebrated the smallest of my achievements with great admiration; and they fought to get me food and drinks. I’ve had to teach them that I can move independently with my guide dog or cane and that I’m not a superhero for matching my clothes. With regards to food, I’ve learned to accept that Hispanics show their love through food, without room for negotiation. In this sense, I have developed a sixth sense to know when my plate is being replenished; I understand that “More?” is not a question; and that one spoonful means one plateful.
In Honduras, another target of admiration is the term “gringo.” Telling someone they look like a gringo is a compliment. If you mistrust the quality of a product, sales staff will gain your trust by stating, “Don’t worry; it’s gringo!” If you’re a U.S. visitor, people will go out of their way to make you feel welcome. This past December, I relived my experiences as a blind person in a Hispanic household. I traveled to Honduras with my partner Anthony and our guide dogs. If I had forgotten what it is to be blind in a Hispanic household, try being blind and gringo in Honduras.
Food was being frozen weeks before we arrived. Furniture was re-arranged to accommodate us and our dogs. People were learning English. I had to warn Anthony that extra plates and glasses would magically appear in front of him. I had to convince him that Duolingo was not defective; that no app would teach him to understand when everyone is talking at the same time around a Hispanic dinner table.
One of the most influential aspects of our visit was the fact that we were received with open hearts ready to love and embrace us. Understanding that change is not the favorite word in my house, my family’s willingness to adapt was very meaningful. This is another aspect of Hispanic culture that has marked my identity as a blind person. When confronted with a dilemma, Hispanics will choose love over logic. We are passionate individuals; as such, we let our hearts carry our actions before our minds can catch up. In my life as a blind person, I have learned that a loving heart and a faith-filled soul will always pave the way for our rational brains.