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.
(Earl Shorris, The Life and Times of Mexico. W.W. Norton, 2004)
(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–