Thursday, June 27, 2019

Spanish Lessons

Poking around the intert00bz today, I read a couple of pieces on how right-wingers are in a tizzy about three of last night's Democratic debate candidates speaking Spanish, or a facsimile thereof, during the debate. The US has a Spanish-speaking population of 41 million, so an ability to communicate to these potential voters could be crucial to winning elections, which is probably the major reason why right-wingers are so upset (SPOILER: It's really about the bigotry).

The use of Spanish by Beto O'Rourke didn't please everyone, but the guy DID grow up in a city named El Paso in a state named Tejas... besides, the Irish have long had a tradition of supporting their Spanish-speaking brethren. The Irish and Mexicans share a love of beer, fútbol, accordions, and veneration of the Virgin. Really, who could possibly distinguish between the Irish and the Mexicans?

Dumbass Brian Kilmeade asked, "Do Spanish people like people to speak Spanish with them?" In my experience, most people do appreciate any effort made to communicate with them in their primary language... but my Spanish is pretty good. A few weeks back, when I first met my young Chilean friend, I said something to her in Spanish and she joked, "You just want to practice your Spanish on me!" I answered, "Practicar es importante, pero hablaré cualquiera lengua que prefiere." That was enough to convince her that my Spanish was, if not fluent, proficient, and we typically bounce back-and-forth between the two languages. Since I usually work with her and my Argentine-American friend, we have a lot of conversations about dialect and specialized vocabularies. On one afternoon, I got a lession about Lunfardo, the tango-influenced, largely Italian-derived slang of Buenos Aires. Since my Spanish education, like most Spanish-language instruction en los Estados Unidos, comprises a sort of 'greatest hits of the Spanish speaking world', I was able to introduce one of my favorite short stories, Gregorio López y Fuentes' poignant and hilarious Una Carta a Dios to my South American friends. I imagine that my Argentine friend and I will have our Chilean friend reading El Sur before the summer is over. Of course, about half of our conversations are in English- my Argentine friend came to the US to study art history, and married a Yanqui. My Chilean friend was brought to the US by her mother, who doesn't plan on settling here long-term, so she can pursue a STEM education that would be harder to obtain in Chile... she's National Honor Society, so she's doing her mother proud.

I don't think for one moment that the Fox commentariat's pondering whether or not Spanish-speaking US citizens like to hear presidential campaigners hablan español... it's the sort of rank concern-trollery which is even less sincere than an attempt hablar la lengua.


Li'l Innocent said...

If your conversation with your Argentine friend was a 10 on a scale of successful bilingual communication, I had one the other day that was a 1, but still strangely satisfying (I think) for both parties. One place I visit weekly for my horticultural maintenance gig is a residential complex with both townhomes and a big, quite luxe apartment building. I water a big ornamental planting in the latter's lobby, and sometimes give a short ride after work to one of the maintenance folks to her bus stop 1/4 mile up the road. Maria's a timy, energetic, middle-aged woman who cheeruflly engages every one in conversation, mostly Spanish, regardless of how much espanol they may have. Everyone loves her and goes along with it.

On our drive yesterday we attempted to talk about weather and gardens, hampered by mutual monoligualism (mine much more profound) and my inability to remember the Spanish for "garden"! After several fumbles, I resorted to making a sort of Here-here-here-and-here gesture with my fingers, as if pointing out things on a table map, while saying "Flores, flores, flores, flores!" "Aah!" she exclaimed, "jardin!" So for the remainder of the short trip we amused ourselves trying for flower names that we both know (rose and narcissus were the only ones to get thru). When I let her out at the bus stop she laughed ans said something which I suddenly understood, namedly "the lesson will continue", and quick as a flash I said, "Gracias por la lecon!"

Very gratifying for me, and I think for her too.
But I do think many people who are unaccustomed to hearing anything other than English spoken are made very uneasy when they do. Suddenly the enormity of not knowing something damned important rears up before them.

Big Bad Bald Bastard said...

I love stories like that!