Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Simpática Women

There’s a word in Spanish, an adjective of the female form, not easily translated. “Simpática,” might be defined as nice, but it’s more. A woman who is simpática has grace and charm and a certain smile. It’s not about beauty, at least not the beauty that requires a make-up artist and the latest fashion. The simpática woman has an inner beauty of her own creation.

The Beautiful Wife caught my eye in the beginning with that quality of simpática. Caught by surprise—I was looking for a tall blonde, and the BW, being part-Swiss, is a petite brunette—I was easy prey. But that’s how simpática does its work. The world is blessed by an abundance of simpática women. It’s been my good fortune to know a few along the way. Can I tell a story about one?

Early in my engineering career I was on a team introducing a new container for medical irrigation fluids. It was plastic, replacing the traditional glass containers. Women, many of them Latina, worked at inspecting and packing the containers into cases. It was hard, repetitive labor. I would stop and chat with the ladies, practicing Spanish.

One day I was drawn to a Latina woman, black hair, deep brown eyes, with that simpática smile and we began to chat. You might remember the Freedom Flights beginning in the late’60s that carried refugees from Cuba to the U.S. This lady and her family came on one of those flights and rather than settle in Miami, found their way to southern California. To leave Cuba you had to make an application and wait for approval. During the long waiting period there was persecution, including the loss of your ration card, so it was difficult.

Fidel Castro humiliated those who wanted to leave by calling them “gusanos,” or worms. I referred to that term with this lady, even saying it. At the sound of the word, tears welled up in her eyes and began to run down her face. It was one of those moments, not so rare in my life, when you’ve said the wrong thing and dearly want to make it better. We talked for a while, about her family. She worked by day while her husband cared for the children, and he worked by night as a butcher while she took her turn. The children always had a parent with them, but the parents saw little of each other. I thought it a hard life and was sympathetic. Her response surprised me.

“This is such a wonderful country,” she said. “All you have to do is work and you can have anything you need.” We take that for granted—a country so blessed you could have everything you needed by simply working—but her experience had taught her another reality. Decades have passed since my chat with that simpática Cuban woman but I have not forgotten her, or her message. It seems even more significant today—to be so blessed, all we have to do is work. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach. Email:  [email protected]

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