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Associated Press Newswires

Spanish And English Combo Making Its Way Into Mainstream


November 3, 2002
Copyright © 2002 Associated Press. All rights reserved. 

In the wacky cartoon world of the "Mucha Lucha" wrestling school, Buena Girl is trying to help her friend gain weight in preparation for his match with three big "brutos."

"And now for the ultimate in buena eats! El Masked Montana's mega torta!" she says, stuffing an enormous sandwich into his mouth.

The WB network's new show is peppered with a blend of Spanish and English dialogue often called Spanglish. And TV isn't the only place you'll find it.

An Amherst College professor recently completed a Spanglish translation of the first chapter of "Don Quixote," and Hallmark is expanding its line of cards that mix America's most commonly spoken languages.

Not everyone is happy to see Spanglish creep into the mainstream. Critics see it as a danger to Hispanic culture and advancement. But Spanglish speakers, who often move nimbly between the two languages and cultures, say it is an expression of ethnic pride.

"Spanglish is proof that Latinos have a culture that is made up of two parts. It's not that you are Latino or American," said Ilan Stavans, the professor of Latin American and Latino culture who translated Miguel de Cervantes' masterpiece. "You live on the hyphen, in between. That's what Spanglish is all about, a middle ground."

Spanglish speakers span generations, classes and nationalities. Immigrants still learning English may turn to Spanglish out of necessity. Bilingual speakers may dip into one language, then weave in another because it's more convenient.

"There are certain words or sayings that are just better in Spanish," said Danny Lopez, 28, who speaks Spanglish with friends and family, though seldom at work.

"When I talk to my dad, I'll say, 'Hey Dad, I remember sitting in abuelita's cocina when we were little, and we were drinking a taza of cafe,"' said Lopez, describing memories of his grandmother's kitchen. His family has lived in the United States for four generations.

Stavans traces Spanglish's origins back to 1848, when the treaty that ended the U.S.-Mexican War signed over much of the Southwest to the United States, abruptly transforming Spanish-speaking Mexicans into Americans.

But the modern phenomenon has plenty of pop culture examples, from Ricky Martin scoring a big hit with "Livin' La Vida Loca" to top-selling Mexican singer Paulina Rubio doing all of her songs in Spanglish as she opens for Enrique Iglesias.

At mun2, a cable network that shows music videos, comedies, game shows, extreme sports and other programming targeted at 14- to 34-year-old Hispanics, language has evolved in the last year. When it launched, most of the programs were in Spanish. But the network, a division of NBC-owned Telemundo, will soon be mostly English and Spanglish, in response to viewer preferences, said spokeswoman Claudia Santa Cruz.

Stavans translated Cervantes into Spanglish this summer in response to a Spanish-language purist who asserted the linguistic mix would never be taken seriously until it produced a classic like "Don Quixote."

"In un placete de La Mancha of which nombre no quiero remembrearme, vivia, not so long ago, uno de esos gentlemen who always tienen una lanza in the rack, una buckler antigua, a skinny caballo y un grayhound para el chase," his translation begins.

Stavans' work signals Spanglish's move into academe: He also teaches a class on Spanglish and is working on a Spanglish dictionary, to be published next year.

But Antonio Garrido of the Instituto Cervantes in New York, said a Spanglish "Don Quixote" is "a joke."

"The idea is good English and good Spanish. Spanglish has no future," said Garrido, director of the institute created by the Spanish government to promote Spanish and Hispanic-American language and culture. "A person who doesn't speak English well in the United States doesn't have a future."

Roberto Gonzalez Echevarria, a professor of Hispanic and comparative literature at Yale University, agreed, saying Hispanics should learn to speak both English and Spanish well.

He fears "we're going to end up speaking McSpanish, a sort of anglicized Spanish. I find it offensive the United States' values and cultural mores, all of that, are transmitted through the language filter into Spanish culture."

He cited one example of a Spanglish pitfall: In a deli in Puerto Rico, he saw a sign that warned parking was for customers only. "Violadores" will be prosecuted, it said. The word was used because it sounds like the English word for violators, but the problem is that "violador" primarily means "rapist" in Spanish, he said.

Stavans, who said he speaks Spanglish with his children, doesn't advocate replacing English with Spanglish. But he says it should be recognized as a valid form of communication.

"Language is not controlled by a small group of academics that decide what the words are that we should use. Language is created by people and it is the job of academics to record those changes," he said.

A recent survey by the Los Angeles-based Cultural Access Group found 74 percent of 250 Hispanic youths surveyed in Los Angeles spoke Spanglish, most often with friends, other young people and at home.

The WB network says "Mucha Lucha" - "lucha" means wrestling - reflects that reality. The zippy cartoon doesn't pause to translate Spanish phrases, but sprinkles them throughout to spice up dialogue.

"This is the way that young Latino kids speak," said Donna Friedman, the Kids WB! executive vice president.

Hallmark says its cards also echo how people speak. "Que beautiful it is to do nada, and then descansar despues," reads one, which translates to, "How beautiful it is to do nothing, and then rest afterward."

The greeting card company is expanding its line of Spanish-language cards, which includes Spanglish ones. They're aimed at younger recipients rather than mothers, aunts or grandmothers, "who may not approve of mixing languages," according to the company.

In Los Angeles, Lalo Alcaraz and Esteban Zul run a Web site,, which offers "satire, news y chat for the Spanglish generation."

"We don't live neatly in two worlds. I teach my kids Spanish, yet my wife and I speak English to each other," said Alcaraz, whose new Spanglish comic strip, "La Cucaracha," will appear in newspapers next month. Spanglish is "its own unique point of view. It's more of an empowering thing to us, to say we have a legitimate culture."

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