The line outside the State Theatre in Falls Church, Va. vibrated with rolled r's and elaborate hand gestures. I looked around wide-eyed and dumbfounded. "Is this," Alt.Latino host Jasmine Garsd asked me, "your first Spanish-language concert?" I thought for a minute. "Oh my God, yeah. Yeah, it is."
I'd attended hundreds of shows before — easy. But this was different. Thanks to a few spotty Spanish classes during my white-bread schooling in North Florida, I felt falsely confident in my language skills as I headed out to hear a Latin music staple, Julieta Venegas.
The night of the show, I boarded a sedan stuffed with mostly native, entirely fluent Spanish-speakers. Jasmine played Spanglish tour guide. Despite her frequent attempts to steer the conversation back into English, I guessed that there was bound to be a lot of unintended, language-based ostracizing that night.
But then the lights cut, the accordion rang and language was no longer an issue. Venegas, although petite in stature, had a gargantuan sound and presence that inspired an overwhelming sense of pride and unity. When she shouted into the microphone (in Spanish), "This one's for everyone who knows what it's like to leave their home behind," and launched into her cover of Los Tigres del Norte's "La Jaula De Oro" (The Golden Cage), the game changed.
Although unknown to me, the famous anthem electrified the crowd. It seemed as if everyone could identify, even if they hadn't emigrated. We were all diaspora and we were all dancing together. It was unlike anything I had experienced at an English-language concert. As the set came to a close, I felt alive and invigorated.
Swelling applause and cries of joy slapped my eardrums and then something else new happened. Jasmine explained to me the Spanish-language protocol to incite an encore includes chanting otra, otra and more of that r-rolling battle cry. "Otra" is Spanish for "another one." The chant worked and Vegenas returned to the stage. And it worked on me, too — I'm ready for otra.
Beca Grimm is the All Songs Considered intern. She graduated from the University of North Florida last spring and has just set sail on the scary voyage of finding a big-girl job. She used to pretend she could speak a little Spanish. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.