Proper Spanglish

From mi artículo in MundoHispá

Para mí el Spanglish didn’t come easy, pero it did come bien natural.

After growing up in Spanish and learning English, I just had to move to the Juárez-El Paso border to make it mine, or, rather, to become a part of it.

Spanglish es pues, lo que hablo, lo que escribo. It is who I am. Lo busco and when I find it, lo celebro. That’s the reason behind this post.

Apenas esta semana escribí para MundoHispánico a story on how Spanglish lives among us.

From streets and classrooms, esta herramienta de comunicación has reached the media, only reflecting la realidad en la que vivimos en este país.

From MundoHispánico:

Una carcajada en spanglish

Y aunque hay quien disputa esa aseveración, la presencia del spanglish es palpable a tal grado que es material de trabajo del comediante Bill Santiago, quien lo utiliza para conectarse con su público.

“La gente lo escucha y pronto se relaciona con lo que estoy diciendo y dice ‘ese es el mundo en el que crecí, los dos idiomas que yo veía convivir’”, dijo.

Estudioso del lenguaje, Santiago es un periodista que a través del humor resalta su fascinación por un habla que muchos tachan de inferior.

“Siempre digo que el spanglish es el doble de vocabulario, pero la mitad de la gramática”, dijo a manera de broma.

Además de su comedia, Santiago publicó un libro titulado Pardon My Spanglish, en el que aborda el tema desde un punto de vista más relajado.

“El libro dice que el spanglish no es algo malo, sino una forma muy creativa que la gente que habla los dos idiomas usa para comunicarse”, explicó el comediante.

Por estas razones I was very excited cuando I saw an NPR piece where el poeta, y mi tocayo, Gustavo Firmat speaks about his life in and between two languages (and histories, I must add).

From the NPR piece:

There are not only mother tongues. There are also father tongues, and sister tongues, and lover tongues, and brother tongues, and son tongues.
When I think of Spanish I hear my father’s voice. When I think of English, what do I hear? I hear that my children’s voices. I hear my wife’s voice. And so, my tongue ties, my effective relations with those two languages are really quite, quite distinct.

MONTAGNE: Are there phrases, expressions, words that you can only say in English and others that really you can only say in Spanish?

FIRMAT: Well, the first thing that occurs to me is that I basically can only curse in Spanish. I had a difficult relationship with my dad and there may have been some cursing involved in both parts. And there’s this kind of anger, this kind of effect. On the other hand, I have a hard time saying I love you in Spanish. When I say te quiero, ti amo, it sounds stilted. It sounds like the kind of speech you here in Mexican soap operas.

But for me, it’s very natural to say I love you. My wife is American. English is a conjugal tongue. It’s a filial tongue. Every time I talk to my son or my daughter, we end the discussion by saying I love you.

MONTAGNE: Does that then when you write in a combination of both languages, does that make it whole?

FIRMAT: Well, I think that’s, for me, that’s what Spanglish represents, this impossible dream of wholeness. And, you know, languages define your personality. And sometimes I have the sense that I’m a different person in Spanish than I am in English, that my Cuban Joe(ph) doesn’t quite understand my American high. And I think that’s a very common experience of bilinguals.

I agree when he says that there’s more than just a mother tongue. Es cierto que hay relaciones that can be just felt in one language, porque la lengua goes beyond what’s spoken. But, unlike Firmat, I love having the option of two languages porque me han enseñado mundos y vidas that would be out of reach otherwise.


About Gustavo Martínez Contreras

was born in Texas, brewed in Mexico City, seasoned in the Mexico-United States border, aged walking the streets of Philadelphia. He had a short-lived stint eating grits, fried chicken, and peaches in Atlanta. He later became a béisbol writer for El Diario de Nueva York. He has written about immigrant communities in English, Spanish, and some Spanglish. Although he does not have a shelf full of awards, Gustavo has received thank you notes and hugs from people who have trusted him with their stories. His work has appeared in Voices of New York, El Diario/La Prensa, Dallas’ Al Día, The Philadelphia Public School Notebook, Philadelphia Weekly, Radio Bilingüe, Latina Lista,, among others. He is currently pursuing a master's degree at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism.
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One Response to Proper Spanglish

  1. adalacho says:

    suave loco!


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