I started this blog by looking for the “formal dictionary” definition of my very dear practice of Spanglish. Although Mexican-Americans have similar experiences and each family has its personal touch, most assuredly Spanglish is in their mix. Some families choose to drop the whole Mexican culture and embrace American ways forgetting that it’s OK to be American with languages and traditions from their roots; it is the American way after all. Other families hold on rigidly to the language and culture of the “old country”, perhaps because it is easier to practice what they already know. A concern I’ve had is when families stick to “their own” ignoring the fact that “American” is now part of their experience. Then, there are families like ours; keeping the old, speaking in Spanish often, keeping alive some traditions and holding fast to some of the “old fashion” standards, all the while tentatively reaching out to explore what the good ole U.S.A offered.
What in America is Spanglish? It is what it sounds like, a combination of Spanish and English, dashes and pinches of retreaded words all mixed together so well it forms its own category in the language world; Spanglish. Here’s what a typical conversation with my older sister would sound like while we watched T.V. in the living room (since it’s hard for me to believe I actually have an accent, I hope you can hear us talking, see if you can follow along)
Patty: Man! Tengo hambre. Will you make me sangwich.
Me: Orita no, I don’t want to get up. Estoy bien agusto. You always make me do it.
Patty: Andale! Please. You make them so good, con jalapenos
Me: Not right now. Tengo flojera. You make us one
Patty: Pero, you make the best, andale. Hurry, there’s a commercial, you can do it, bien rapido
Me: I can’t. Se acabo el pan.
In my experience, I’ve learned that not all Mexican Americans speak Spanish, a lot depends what generation they fall under, first, second, third or more. However, I think it’s safe to say that most will speak a little Spanglish if they’ve lived in the barrio or around it. Somehow that Mexican culture mingled into their lives also.
En mi casa, our early days were only in Spanish. My dads Jefe had rented out to him a house out in the middle of nowhere, since he was the farmhand doing the irrigation and taking care of the boss’ fields it was perfect for mom to adjust to her new life. My older siblings hadn’t been immersed into English or American life so Spanish was the only language. Then, when they were immersed into American ways because of school, they repelled that immersion, preferring the comfort of Spanish at home. Three years later, and two more kids (me and my little brother, made eight kids in all), my dad decided to move us into town. We went to the projects.
Here, in very close proximity with the neighbors I heard the “foreign” language of English. By now I was even hearing English from my older siblings. An English word, then a Spanish phrase. Still I found myself shocked when my first best friend; Li’l Debbie, did not speak Spanish, she certainly looked like she should! I think she was a fourth generation Mexican-American (maybe she was just American and not hyphenated?) Li’l Debbie became my first unofficial English teacher. Playing with her and creating Spanglish along the way prepared me for kindergarten and English.
With all this 2nd language coming into our home, Mom had to officially establish an unspoken rule. En mi casa, se habla Español! While we were out in the community, we spoke in English and Spanglish, but when we got home, we spoke in Spanish, Mom didn’t know how to speak English and as we grew and our English improved, she found less and less need to embrace the English language. Instead she took a translator to her every appointment. There was one word that mom used in English. As our voices rose in the house and around the table, and she was hearing too much Spanglish, we would suddenly hear a very loud, “SHAT AP!” And we did.
Speaking in Spanish covers so much more than words. Speaking Spanish reaches out to those Mexican traditions that I am so thankful for. Embracing English along the way paved the way for my appreciation of my country and I can rock my Mexican-Americanness in Spanglish.
I usually tell people that I am bilingual, but as I’ve written this, I wonder if I qualify for trilingual, Porque, pues, you see, it’s like this, poquito Spanish and some English and a mixture that is only captured by a fellow Spanglisher.