My mother grew up along the fierce río Biobío, in Concepción, Chile. Before the Spanish ever set foot in the country whose name they translated as “Chile,” the Mapuche people named this river. They resided behind its impenetrable waters, safe from Spanish conquest, until the 1880s.
Thirty years later, I grew up along the peaceful Connecticut River. The French settlers borrowed the Mohegan word “quinetucket” to describe this stream. Unlike el río Biobío, the meandering Connecticut could not protect the indigenous peoples in the American Northeast. People like me have resided here since the introduction of smallpox.
The Connecticut and el río Biobío do not meet. The Connecticut flows from North to South, emptying into Long Island Sound. El río Biobío collects in the Andes and surges westward towards the Pacific Ocean. Perhaps the great colonial apologist Rudyard Kipling was right: “Oh, East is East and West is West, and never the twain shall meet.”
In some cases, rivers join at junctions called deltas. (Think the end of the Mississippi, the Nile, the Amazon.) Delta is a cognate in Spanish and in English. Connection is possible. Though the currents of my life and my Chilean family continue to flow in opposite directions, every couple of years, the twain meet.