The Thing I Like About …

I Love Lucy: the one where Ricky tells Little Ricky the story of Little Red Riding Hood.

In the episode, Ricky tries to read his toddler a story out of an English-language fairy tale book. But Spanish – his native language – has a very consistent pronunciation structure. English, on the other hand, has spelling/pronunciation tangles such as through, tough, boughs, trough … etc. After an amusing interlude wherein Lucy helps Ricky with the words he’s never seen before, Ricky gives up in total irritation.

Later he goes into Little Ricky’s room, where the little boy is sitting in his crib, and he starts telling Little Ricky the story that had been in the book – Little Red Riding Hood. He tells him the story in Spanish. There aren’t any subtitles, and Little Ricky is probably not even two years old, so any comprehension on the level of the word – by the baby or non-Spanish-speaking audience members – is impossible. But the story comes alive as Ricky makes large gestures and alters his voice to set mood and to imitate Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf. The baby is enchanted, and the audience knows without a doubt what the story is. At the end, Little Ricky is absolutely happy, and the studio audience is heard cheering and clapping.

As our world gets smaller, our differences announce themselves in ways that people don’t have much time to get used to. Certainly in the United States, but in every part of the globe, people from different cultures, nationalities, religions, and ways of thinking are thrown together and given the task of making the best of it. It’s easy to criticize those who don’t make the best of it – who respond with hatred or fear or anger or aggression – but in truth, it’s very difficult to have the things that we have always known be challenged by other ways of thinking, doing, looking or being. It can feel … threatening. And what do we do with things that feel threatening? – we try to avoid them, or eliminate them, or kill them. We try to suppress them, and make them more like what we’re used to.

But when Ricky expresses himself the way he is used to, he’s happier, his child is happier, and his communication with his English-speaking audience is clearer in Spanish than when he tries to read in English. It turns out that being himself and offering those things that are particular to him is the best way to accomplish his goal.

And, most interestingly, the audience is able to follow the story even though chances are high that none of them spoke a word of Spanish. They listened to the other elements – the tone, the pitch of different characters’ voices – and watched the gestures and movements of the story teller. They paid attention, knowing that a story a man is telling his child is probably nothing to feel … threatened … by, and when they paid attention, they followed along, they understood, they enjoyed their experience, and they had bonded with Ricky. They didn’t need translators or subtitles; they didn’t need Ricky to turn into some kind of culturally recognizable “norm”. They just let the story in.

And it turned out that Ricky’s Little Red Riding Hood is exactly the same as their own.

It turned out – it turns out – that, whoever we are, our stories are pretty much the same.

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