Thursday, October 28, 2010

Spanglish a moldy dilemma in our midst

Thought I would post this guest column from the Victoria Advocate, because I haven't updated in a quite a while.

Originally published September 29, 2010 at 5:36 p.m., updated September 29, 2010 at 5:36 p.m.

Pues, what can I say besides quiúbole a todos.

I was born and raised in the low class, rascuache way so many Spanish and English purists find offensive.

I'm one of "them" third generation Mexican-Americans who grew up along the arid, sandy border of El Paso and Juarez, Mexico.

I am a product of the bastardization of the English and Spanish language, born and raised in a Spanglish speaking household.

My father would parquear his troca in our yarda. The grownups in my life were always getting themselves into these wonderful linguistic predicaments.

In my father's youth, he and his friends were on a first-name basis with the patrol officers in the neighborhood.

The officers' stopped and questioned them as teenagers daily. On one such occasion my dad asked one of the bilingually impaired officers in his most polite Spanglish, "¿Pasale, la bacha, compa?" Which translated in English, loosely, means, "May I have a puff off your cigarette?" The officer tightened his grip around his gun and replied in a serious tone that "an officer and his badge are never separated." He mistook the Spanglish word bacha to mean badge.

Spanglish may be ugly to some, but along the U.S./Mexican border it is a way of life. And being the ugly American that I am, I must argue my case for the proliferation of the Spanglish language by using a movie reference.

The movie in question is "Code 46" and stars Tim Robbins and Samantha Morton. If you haven't seen it, I recommend renting it - it's in Spanish, too.

Although the plot and acting are just adequate, what is revolutionary in the film is the way Frank Cottrell Boyce uses language.

In this sci-fi romance he used a hybrid, or as some would call it, bastardization, of English, French, Arabic, Spanish, Chinese in the script.

When the actors used this international speak, it was unsettling at first, but then it reminded me of reading Shakespeare in the original Old English or, what I imagine Cervantes would be like in the original Old Spanish. It took some getting used to, but after getting the cadence, I wanted to hear more of the mezcla.

The movie subplots concerned immigration, globalization and the tension that's created when people with different beliefs attempt to live together, much like today's society. I could see our future in their words.

Lalo Guerrero saw the future and embraced it. He sang in Spanglish back in the 1930s.

A visionary who saw what many are now just understanding - our world is getting smaller, and languages are going to continue to collide, crash and coalesce into this melodious linguistic symphony and evolve into something we can't even imagine.

Spanish and English purists on both sides of the border need to get out of their classrooms and ivory towers and live in the real world.

They need to shop, eat, love and laugh.

I mention laugh last because of the seriousness they attach to their ideals of preserving Cervantes' language or the Queen's English.

A person can no more preserve language than can stop mold from growing on bread inside a room temperature pantry in Central Texas.

Anyone who has spent any time near the U.S./Mexican border, on either side, knows that there is no stopping progress.

Progress is about cultures becoming so entangled that we don't know where one ends and the other begins.

It means using a cachito from this language to enhance speech.

What purists want is a sterilized version of language, and what they are really asking for is to stop evolution.

If Alexander Fleming had been a rigid, overtly responsible scientist who protected the integrity of his Petri dishes at all costs, he would have never left those bacteria samples out by an open window and we wouldn't have penicillin today.

Spanglish is the linguistic accident that insures our evolution.

We're all better for it because if you ain't growing, you're dying.

Christine Granados is a freelance writer and author of "Brides and Sinners in El Chuco." She lives in Victoria and teaches English at the University of Houston-Victoria.

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