Ask a Mexican

Is Spanglish Something to Celebrate?

Dear Mexican: I'm a Spanish court interpreter in Santa Barbara, California; I've also worked in Los Angeles courts. I just read your most recent column regarding the promotion of the learning and practicing of English by Latinos in the United States. Generally, I agree with your view. But my question is why can't we also promote the use and practice of PROPER SPANISH in this country? One only needs to take a stroll through the many Latino neighborhoods throughout California and witness the signage on businesses and nonprofits alike with awful misspellings and grammatical errors—or, flip through the pages of community periodicals or view the commercials on U.S. Spanish television.

But that is not the worst of it. What about the legions of "bilingual" service professionals who work in private and public agencies who speak and write substandard Spanish? Many of these "professionals" are just taken at their word when they assert that they grew up speaking Spanish, their biliteracy never truly tested. Sadly, this is the case with most Chicanos, and even native Latinos who neglect their Spanish literacy in favor of awkwardly assimilating into a forced English. Their arguments for using improper Spanish are disingenuous: "Mexican immigrants won't get the big words," or "Sometimes, there aren't translations for big words or concepts." The fact is that these "professionals" project their own linguistic incompetence and intellectual indifference when they use Spanglish in dealing with the Spanish-speaking community. English is the only official language in the United States, so our Spanish can only be based on something just as official. Why is Spanish not respected as an established foreign language?

As a court interpreter, it's my duty to translate complicated legal terminology every day. It's unethical for me to lower the register, and use words like tíquete, corte, probación and felonía, when the proper words are boleta de tránsito, tribunal, condena condicional and delito grave, respectively. Ninety-nine percent of the time, the public I work with understands and appreciates my formal usage. Such standards should apply to any field. I've come to realize that the human experience is universal: There is a veritable translation for everything! Moreover, it's actually impossible to direct a translation to a certain group or audience, as the only material that the translating agent has to work with is the source language, English. Walter Benjamin argues this point quite well in his essay, "The Task of the Translator." Apart from the academic shortcomings, this practice also promotes a negative stereotype: Those dumb Mexicans are too illiterate to understand.

Finally, I must ask: Do Latino immigrants really need to learn to master English? Isn't it possible to create communities in a strictly Spanish-speaking context? Many major corporations already attempt to cater to our market, the largest ethnic group in the United States.

—Hasta la Madre en Sta. Bárbara

Dear Wab: Usually, I ask readers to chop down their preguntas as much as possible—we can't regulate our borders, but we can sure as hell protect against run-on sentences—but yours was an eloquent enough rant to sneak in, and raises many interesante points. As a court interpreter, you know the difference between legal and colloquial English, so I suggest you treat Spanish the same—I doubt you ask for prayer when demanding your breakfast bill. Besides, what kind of a boring world would we live in if proper language governed how we spoke? That's right: France. And of course Latinos should learn English—remember, it's the bilinguals who'll rule the world, and the monolinguals who'll get left behind. Just look at what's happening to gabachos in our global economy...

GOOD MEXICAN OF THE WEEK: Spanglish—not the horrible Adam Sandler movie, but the language. Long viva mongrel tongues! Abajo with custodians of Cervantes, Shakespeare and Flaubert!

Ask the Mexican at [email protected], be his fan on Facebook, follow him on Twitter or ask him a video question at!

KEEP THE DALLAS OBSERVER FREE... Since we started the Dallas Observer, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Dallas, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Gustavo Arellano
Contact: Gustavo Arellano