Call me Consuelo

My grandmothers would have laughed a lot at all this.

The instructor of the Aqua Zumba class had me standing by the pool, shivering with cold, until she found my name on the attendance list.

‘I made the booking and paid for the class online. My last name is Sánchez,’ I told her.

‘There is no Elena Sánchez on the list, only a Consuelo,’ the instructor replied.

‘Oh, yes. I’m sorry, they put my first name only. This happens to me a lot.’

Elena and Consuelo are not sisters; they are the same person, they are me. Rather, I am both: Consuelo and Elena. Remember we are in Australia, so how many people with the last name Sánchez are going to attend this Zumba class? What an idiot.

At this stage of my life, 50 plus years, they can call me whatever they want… or not.

Thirty years ago, when my parents decided to migrate here, I remember my name became a source of stress and anxiety for me.

Anglo-Australians cannot spell Consuelo, let alone pronounce it. No, it is not Konzuello. No, it is not pronounced like a Greek name. Out of desperation, I decided to leave Consuelo behind and use Elena, plain and simple. Helen, sometimes, to be more assimilated. Elena is shorter, easier to spell and pronounce, and it could be Greek, Russian, or Polish. Few people thought the name was from Spain or Mexican.

I kept the secret of my new name from my grandmother Consuelo. When I wrote letters to her, I signed them as Consuelo. I was terrified she would be offended because I was using the name of my other grandmother, the paternal one, who she criticised for being bossy.

I signed the letters to Grandma Elena as CE so that she would see I used both names, even in Australia. Grandma Elena said Consuelo was a hippie, and Grandma Consuelo said Elena was the name of a nun. Grandma Consuelo had little respect for nuns.

I continued with this game until both of them passed away, so they would be happy with me. Maybe they knew I had changed my name, or suspected it, and continued with my game so that I was happy. My grandmothers clashed because both were very intelligent and had huge personalities. I am not sure I inherited these qualities, but I did inherit their names.

Today, since Australia is more modern and multicultural than when I arrived, I decided that my name will be Consuelo with the “E” for Elena in the middle to highlight the importance of my middle name. I am Consuelo E Sánchez.

Yes, it is true that some find it difficult to remember, write and pronounce it. But, that’s their problem, not mine. Age has given me courage and this is my name. It is also the name that appears on all my official documents.

When my mother died, the name my father put on her grave was not Josefa but Pepita, as she was always known in life. I spent sleepless nights thinking about the name they would put on my tomb. I will have to write it down in my will to make sure Consuelo is not left out. I could not stand for that.

But here I am again, every week, at Aqua Zumba. Today, the instructor remembers me and smiles looking at the list.

‘What was your name? Elena Sanchez?’ she says, making Elena sound more like Helena. After a few seconds she says, ‘Here you are.’

I look at her out of the corner of my eye and with a big smile and in front of the rest of the class, I tell her: Please, call me Consuelo.

Consuelo E Sánchez has lived in Adelaide since 1982. She graduated from Flinders University and has worked there since 1987, initially in the Department of Humanities and Languages ​​and then in the College of Education, Psychology and Social Work. She has collaborated on radio programs in Spanish and has freelanced for a Spanish newspaper writing articles about the Spanish-speaking community in South Australia. She likes to write short stories and micro fiction. Consuelo won a short story contest in the 1990s organised by the Melbourne Spanish Club with the story ‘La casa de la abuela’.

Translation by Gabriella Munoz, founding editor of Puentes Review.

By Consuelo E Sánchez

Issue 2 | Spring 2022

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