research and thoughts on spanglish

This last week I’ve mentioned Spanglish in my classes on more than one occasion. My midwest students look at me as if I’m crazy and one even asked me, Is that a real thing? She said it rather dramatically and forcefully. She said it as if I was telling her about something so foreign and odd to her. I immediately became homesick. (This is after a week in which several book reps and students asked me, What are you?)

And I’ve went on about the importance of intimate language. I’ve went on about how the author must love the language used. Love it much more than the reader. Back at home, out of the classroom as I try to write, I thought about the Grandmother and how she would swim between English and Spanish so efficiently and sweetly. She controlled the mode from speaking on the phone to friends and speaking out the door to pay her paper boy and then she would shift to speak to the Grandfather. A mixed modal approach to communication. From the old kitchen. I admired her so. And she could tell a damn good story. In her house coat cooking and smoking and recounting old stories from when she was a kid. She would explain the San Luis Valley to me and never talking down to me. The stories always brought me in and so I have to recreate that in my stories whether nonfiction or fiction. I don’t do as well of a job at swimming between the two but I do my best to recreate the words and the cadences and the tones.  

So, of course when I write I have no thought of the audience. I had no thought an editor wouldn’t understand and question so harshly the drafts I sent in. I have posted at least three comments from editors on this blog where an editor expresses the thought–Do you expect our readers to understand what these words mean? Some contests have emailed me the work was strong but they had specific provisions that the work be in English. And in my mind the pervasive mixing of English and Spanish is the truest representation. And I know some writers think this is assimilation and not representation. And yet for me the language my Grandmother used is what I want in my stories.

Here are some quotes I’ve quickly gotten down.

  • Spanglish is less the introduction of new words into either language than the distortion of the sound and meaning of Spanish or English words. . . . There are as many versions of Spanglish as there are national origins of Latinos and geographical variations in English vocabulary and diction.”
    (Earl Shorris, The Life and Times of Mexico. W.W. Norton, 2004)
  • and

  • Spanglish is often described as the trap, la trampa Hispanics fall into on the road to assimilation–el obstáculo en al camino. Alas, the growing lower class uses it, thus procrastinating the possibility of un futuro mejor, a better future. Still, I’ve learned to admire Spanglish over time. Yes, it is the tongue of the uneducated. Yes, it’s a hodgepodge. . . . But its creativity astonished me.”
    (Ilan Stavans, Spanglish: The Making of a New American Language. HarperCollins, 2004)
  • Writer Eduardo Gonzalez mentions in his article Spanglish: To Ser or Not to Be? That is la cuestion! that the use of Spanglish represents a reality for so many of us here in the southwest and now in the midwest.  He states the use of it gives vigor and testimony to the writing and I agree. And at some point I have to believe the use of Spanglish in my writing and the bit of it I use over the phone and in my personal life is who I am and what I want to hold to. I also once mentioned in some writing concerning Latino literacy development that the degree I hold, yes, is an English lit degree and I called myself an English major for many years while I wrote in Spanglish in my notes and in my personal life. I also wrote years ago how I knew that fiction bridged these cultural gaps and perhaps the language itself is how I am trying to bridge those cultural gaps.

     More on this as I think of it–

    Published by

    john paul jaramillo

    John Paul Jaramillo’s debut story collection The House of Order was named a 2013 Int’l Latino Book Award Finalist, and his most recent work Little Mocos is now available from Twelve Winters Press. In 2013 Latino Boom: An Anthology of U.S. Latino Literature listed Jaramillo as one of its Top 10 New Latino Authors to Watch and Read. He is currently a professor of composition and literature at Lincoln Land College-Springfield, Illinois.

    3 thoughts on “research and thoughts on spanglish”

    1. You said, “Spanglish.”
      I thought, “Should I have watched that Adam Sandler movie?”
      I think we all know enough Spanish to understand Spanglish writing, though we may not be proficient in an all-Spanish novel. There is plenty of vocabulary and concept in any novel that I may not understand immediately. Having access to the internet, I was able to find definitions quickly for words I did not recognize in your essay, Backyard College. However, I picked up most meaning through context.

      The real question is: Why aren’t we teaching American children multiple languages?

    2. Great question. I think we seem to have an American nationality that does not want to include differences in language or expression. I think perhaps Spanish especially and specifically due to immigration controversies prevalent since September 11. American nationality means English language in schools and in pop culture I would argue. And English is the standard in academic writing. And right now English immersion is the standard rather than bi-lingual curriculum I’m sad to say. Probably because of tight public educaton budgets. And if you type English-only into your search engine you will be overwhelmed with the debate and how tied to immigration and academic standards.

    Leave a Reply