Lost in Adaptation

It took me a while, I must admit, but I’m just glad that by the time Spanglish came about, I finally came to terms with and even developed an appreciation for this urban linguistic alternative. At first, I thought it was only spoken in Mexican-American circles and that it was not quite Spanish and not necessarily English.

Courtesy of Minero Magazine. Originally published on Vol. VII, Fall 2008.


Ten years ago, when I began to call El Chuco my home, I had a hard time adjusting to the idea of mixing words of English with Spanish and vice versa. Perhaps spending my years of basic education in the Mexican school system contributed to my becoming a sort of language purist. However, from an early age, I had the opportunity to learn–outside of a formal classroom–that historically the mechanisms of assimilation used by the U.S. establishment did not favor Mexicans who wanted to pass their traditions and culture to future generations.

Lucia Sánchez-Llorente, a professor of advanced Spanish at UTEP, explains that a generation of both Mexican-American and Mexican-born children, who finished their schooling in the United States, grew into adulthood without speaking their parent’s language.

“There was a time when kids who spoke Spanish in American schools were in one way or another punished,” Sánchez-Llorente says. She went on to say that in those days, parents would conform to the demands from the system for fear of having their children miss out on opportunities and they would not speak any Spanish at home.

Professor of political science, Tony Payán, argues that the remnants of that monolingual ideology, which still linger across this immigrant nation, is quite possibly the number one reason for disagreements, bickering and discrimination between people who have the same skin tone and sometimes even have the same Spanish last name.

However, he points out that the rise in the numbers of Hispanics in the U.S. influences both the political and economical spheres. Payán also says the availability of communication technologies that allows families to maintain their ties across borders and globalization are important factors that are changing the monolingual ideology.

Video exclusive for Borderzine.com

Kristen Hernández, a sophomore health promotion major at UTEP, says she identifies with both concepts. She is a second-generation Mexican-American and says that in spite of her parents’ fluency in Spanish, she was brought up to speak English and that here on campus she rarely speaks Spanish, even though there are plenty of opportunities to practice it.

The fact that her early education was spent in the Utah school system probably didn’t help either. She remembers that during those years, the small number of Hispanic students at her elementary school would only speak English.
“I picked up most of my Spanish from friends at church,” recalls Kristen, which she says was the only place where she was able to interact primarily in Spanish.

The Hernández family eventually moved back to El Paso by the time Kristen was ready to enter high school. She graduated from Burges High School, and although she had the opportunity to speak with a significant number of Juarenses, she rarely spoke Spanish.

“The exception was my Spanish class and the interactions that I had with my grandmother, a Spanish speaker from Chihuahua,” Kristen says. “Although I consider myself Mexican, I feel so bad because I can’t pronounce or translate certain words when I speak to my grandma.” She says that as she grows older, she finds herself trying to become more bilingual.

“It’s a real necessity and someday I want to pass down not only the culture and traditions that I learned in ballet folklorico, I also want the language to carry on,” Kristen says.

Joe Marquez, an Army cadet in the Green to Gold military program at UTEP, grew up in Phoenix, Ariz., where he only spoke Spanish at home. While he was at school, he says it was a natural thing to shift to English only.

Marquez does not feel there is cultural divide on campus, but notes that the Spanish lingo among the student body is different. “Their Spanish (Juarenses) is different, strong accents and a lot more formal,” Marquez says.

Payán feels that when it comes to taking advantage of the region, a significant number of students from both sides of the border lose out on an excellent opportunity to develop both linguistically and culturally when they insist on maintaining their own space. He points out that the genomic difference between a chimpanzee and a human being is 1 per cent. “How different can people, who are different only by the color of the passport that they are entitled to, be?”asks Payán, adding that the identities that people hold are nothing more than social constructs, invented perhaps because of peer pressure, a sense of nationalism or a need to assimilate.

In other sectors, according to Veronica Guajardo, a Tapatía who grew up in the fields of Califas in the Central Valley, second and third-generation Mexican-Americans and Chicano migrants had to speak both languages because the kids, especially older siblings, would have to play the role of translator, lawyer, accountant and just about any other intermediary liaison between the patrones y los jefitos.

“In these communities, an interesting dynamic began to develop,” says Guajardo. She also believes that “anytime there is a cultural meshing of cultures, there will always be mixture of languages.”

Guajardo is currently working toward an MFA in creative writing at UTEP. “This Spanglish thing officially is nothing more than code switching,” she says. She calculates that in academia it has been recognized for more than 30 years.

Guajardo’s lingo is more closely related to the Mexican Romani (Gypsy) dialect that meshed with what she calls La Pachucada, or the Zoot Suit culture of the 1930s and 1940s.

According to poet and writer José Antonio Burciaga, the Caló of El Paso was influenced by the wordplay of Mexico City barrios. Some of the most famous exponents of this lingo are Germán Valdés (better known as Tin-Tán), Lalo Guerrero and Cheech Marín.

Caló and Spanglish are not the same; each developed out of different cultural subsets. Caló is usually rhymed, like African-American jive; whereas Spanglish is fused verbiage, where elements of both English and Spanish complement each other.

Guajardo points out that she is not an expert, but when it comes to language, she only tells it as she sees it and how she practices this style in her work. “Perhaps there are those who will disagree with me and say that it is language corruption, but a living language never stops to see if it’s going in the right direction,” Guajardo says.

Sánchez-Llorente points out that these types of dynamics or sub-languages are “what keep tongues alive. It’s what nurtures them!” She also says that in the years that she has witnessed Spanglish develop; she has noticed that it is precisely in Guajardo’s field of study where Spanglish finds a more sympathetic ear.

“The literary field is a little less forgiving when it comes to using Spanglish, but in the creative writing field and in poetry, the written works can turn out to be real works of art.”

While Spanglish might be a significant asset for creative writing, Sánchez-Llorente points out that in the business world, proper Spanish, not Spanglish, has taken on an important role as far as what employers are looking for in their prospective candidates.

“No longer are second or third-generation Mexican-Americans satisfied with signing up for Spanish courses only to reconnect with their heritage,” says Sánchez-Llorente. She explains that in the job market, the need for Spanish speakers benefits those who are capable of reading and comprehending it at an advanced level. “It’s those who can read between the lines who have the advantage,” she says.

Article Tags: , , ,

  • Share

1 Comment

  • Arletha Duso says:

    Some interesting insights there, what would you recommend a newcomer to all of this read from here?

Leave a Reply


Leave a Trackback