Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Growing Up Spanglish: Part Dos

Is it odd that my first language is Spanish, but my native language is English? Not in Miami.

Being first-generation American in Miami is not alienating. I wasn't the only kid in my elementary school to carry a Materva in her lunch box, I wasn't the only middle schooler who had to teach my parents what a GPA was, and I wasn't the only high school girl to be professionally photographed in a hideous poofy white dress for her quinces (fifteenth birthday).

My life has always been compartmentalized into language zones: English for social life; Spanish for family life. It's not quite that simple, of course. Within families, it's strictly Spanish with the abuelos (grandparents). With the parents, it depends. Did they attend school in the U.S. or not? This will generally determine how much Spanish is spoken in the home. My parents were raised in Cuba, which means I speak to them primarily in Spanish. There are exceptions, though. For instance, if my father and I are discussing Obama's healthcare plan, we may instinctually switch to English because we unconsciously categorize certain topics as English-language ones.

Siblings and cousins tend to fall into the English zone, granted they're not acabados de llegar (just arrived from *insert name of Latin American country here*). My cousin moved to the States when she was eight years old. We speak a hybrid language that consists of the following ingredients:

- 3 parts English
- 1 part Spanish
- 1 part Cuban (not to be confused with proper Spanish, which doesn't make use of colorful expressions as absurd as le zumba el merequeténgue)

As someone with an MA in English, I am often conflicted about the extensive use of Spanglish in this town. Many people seem unable to speak either language correctly. At times, though, a Spanish word (or Cuban expression) has greater import than its English counterpart (if there is one). The reverse is also true. Navigating between two languages with fellow bilingual Miamians is therefore practical. It's also fun. Consider the common use of Yiddish terms in American English. Would you rather say, "that guy's got nerve and confidence," or "that guy's got chutzpah"? I rest my case. For better or worse, Spanglish is Miami's unofficial language.

I leave you with another classic ¿Qué Pasa, U.S.A.? clip, in which the Spanish/English, grandparent/grandchild rift is taken to its comedic extreme.


  1. love that clip, although i can't abide Materva. :P

  2. You know? I thought of you as I wrote about Materva. You're seriously the only person I've ever introduced it to who didn't like it. I may still be shocked.

  3. I've included a link to your blog on Lo Que Pica el Gallo's blog. :) It's on the right hand panel under Amigos.

  4. Thanks! As you may have noticed, yours is under Miami Blogs on mine. ;o}

  5. Iron Beer. good clip though. for me, my parents came here very young and I taught myself the language, but my brother doesn't speak it well at all and has trouble speaking with los abuelos. it's a shame