even more thoughts on spanglish

I’ve been thinking more and more about the idea of language in my fiction. It’s something I obsess over. And I guess this whole series of posts began with Richard Hugo and Auden and the idea the writer must love the language they utilize more than the reader. And I do love the mix of Spanish and English my Grandmother used. I love the idea of approaching the story remembering sounds and bits of dialogue I can hear from my memories. So when I write it just comes. I do want to represent that upbringing and yet at the same time I admit my Spanish is horrible. Embarrassing really. And in my own ethnic identity struggles and explorations–again, remember last month more people asked me what I was than ever before. So the Spanish language I use is always disappointing other Latinos and readers. One person called me out at an IMAGE award dinner I was invited to that is associated with my community college teaching position. And I felt that was an aggressive reminder of what it means to be truly Latino.

My Grandmother used to tell me what a shame it was that I didn’t know more of my language she would say. Or she would say ‘your people’s language.’ And then she would speak in English to almost everyone. So in terms of language skills I am a little bit of both. And yet I have to admit my verbal and language strengths rest in English though I do write in Spanglish. But the publications I send my writing to aren’t a bit of both. Which causes the problem. A bi-lingual and bi-cultural writer needs more and more bilingual and bi-cultural publications.

This afternoon I was reviewing a PBS documentary on George Lopez called Brown the New Green. I reached the point of the documentary where he discusses language and immediately remembered why I put this on my Netflix queue. In this documentary George Lopez gives the best quote about the language he utilizes:

  • “The fact is I speak very little Spanish during the day and when I get on stage I speak in tongues. But broken and twisted and inherently wrong but that’s how we do it. And that’s what it is. And if you want me to go to Berlitz and learn the right way I’m not going to do it. So you’re going to have to deal with the way it is and take me the way I am and if you don’t think I’m Mexican enough because I don’t speak Spanish then I say fuck you.”

First off, I love the idea of ‘tongues’. Again when I write it just comes. Sometimes I go back to words I know were used in the old house and I use today and I can’t spell. Embarrassing. But amazing because it makes me scrutinize the language I’m using to get to hearts of characters. Also what I love about George Lopez’ quote is the idea he is absolutely unapologetic about being bi-cultural and bi-lingual in his act. He is nearly admitting to language as representation utilized versus a dominant use that is Spanish and also English–a new  bi-cultural entertainment. “Create your own position,” says George Lopez.

More on this soon–

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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.

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