Tijuana destroys Spanish and English

I succumbed to Spanglish

Sign from the ’90s spelled “Famoust” and “Pinneapple.” No one has ever bothered to change it. Liquor Store(s) Si Señor sells “Sodas” — the real Spanish word is refresco or gaseosa.
  • Sign from the ’90s spelled “Famoust” and “Pinneapple.” No one has ever bothered to change it. Liquor Store(s) Si Señor sells “Sodas” — the real Spanish word is refresco or gaseosa.

“Tengo que ir hacer laundry, then I have to study en la biblioteca,” I’m paraphrasing what the Latina students in my college sounded like. My first real encounter with Spanglish speakers was in Minnesota. Spanglish frustrated me. I kept telling them to speak one language or the other, not to skip between both.

Peppered tongue

Peppered tongue

I went to a small all-men private university that was mostly white; the women’s campus was five miles away. I was the only Mexican in my class. The rest of the Latinos were international students from South or Central America. The Latina students, on the other campus, were mostly from Bellflower, California (south Los Angeles), with diverse mixed backgrounds (Puerto Rico, Guatemala, Nicaragua, and more). Just like me, they were recruited into the college to diversify the student body. (Despite this, Latinos were less than 3 percent.)

“Este zinc es para el mappeador only,” read a sign in the back of a burrito shop I used to frequent in Venice Beach. After college I moved to Los Angeles. Despite encountering many Spanglish speakers, I still strictly spoke one language or the other.

For Spanglish-speaking people (especially Californians) it is clear that the previous phrase means “this sink is for the mop only.” Purely Spanish-speaking people might not understand what it means, and many would poke fun at the mix of the two languages.

Mappeador is not a Spanish word. The closest to a real Spanish word is mapeador, which means mapper or cartographer. The real word for a mop is trapeador, which derives from the word trapo, which means “rag.” But trapeador in a Spanglish mind sounds like someone who sets up traps.

Aseguranzas is a pocho word for insurance

Aseguranzas is a pocho word for insurance

Spanglish speakers frequently misspell the word sink to zinc (yes, like the element), because a zee in Spanish sounds like an ess in English. Only it is not a Spanish word.

It wasn’t until I moved to Tijuana and crossed the border daily that I started to understand the mind of a Spanglish speaker. The retail shop I worked at in San Diego had a Spanglish sign similar to the burrito shop: “Timer del sign afuera.” But it wasn’t only at the retail shop.

Bass Boy = Bus Boy?

Bass Boy = Bus Boy?

“Stops Relocated / Paradas Relocadas,” read a sign from MTS when they were renewing the trolley tracks back in April of 2015.

Relocadas is not a word. If anything, in proper Spanish, it would mean “the bus stops are extra crazy.”

Sometimes bad English gets translated into bad Spanish. A bilingual sign near the trolley tracks read: “No trespassing — Construction Personal Only” (should have been “Personnel”) which got translated to “No hay personal de constructión — Allanamiento solo.” In Spanish, this sign is simultaneously counter nonsensical and counter to its own aim. Translating it back to English it would render: “There is no construction personal — Break-ins only.”

San Diego butchers the Spanish language frequently, but Tijuana destroys both English and Spanish. It’s the city where I have seen the most spelling mistakes in both languages by restaurants (and their menus), billboards, and even official government information.

This sign is simultaneously counter nonsensical and counter to its own aim. Translating it back to English it would render: “There is no construction personal — Break-ins only.”

This sign is simultaneously counter nonsensical and counter to its own aim. Translating it back to English it would render: “There is no construction personal — Break-ins only.”

In Tijuana, a person doesn’t go to a fiesta; he or she “se va de par(t)y” (The tee is silent, possibly because “party,” spoken in American English, sounds like “pardy.” Sped up it sounds like “paw-ree” to a Spanish speaker.)

In Tijuana, clothes are not a la moda (Spanish for fashionable), clothes are fachon (fashion with a hard ch sound). Never mind that fashion is a noun, not an adjective. Spanglish doesn’t limit itself to rules.

In Tijuana, cottage cheese is known by its phonetic approximation carichis.

In Tijuana, if someone told me, “Voy p’al swami en San Ysidro,” I’d know that we’re going to cross the border for the swap meet (swami) in San Ysidro. (P’al is a colloquial contraction of para el — for “the.”)

Relocadas is not a word. in proper Spanish, it would mean “the bus stops are extra crazy.”

Relocadas is not a word. in proper Spanish, it would mean “the bus stops are extra crazy.”

You never ask for a refresco as you would in other parts of Mexico, you say, “Dame una soda” (give me a soda). There’s no such thing as cinta adhesiva, there’s only el teip (adhesive tape). There are no peluquerías (barber shops), only barberías. And many businesses have proper names followed by an apostrophe; e.g., Tito’s Tacos, Mario’s Yonke, etc. The apostrophe does not exist in proper Spanish.

As hard as I resisted, at some point my brain refused to compartmentalize the two languages and the fusion commenced. I succumbed to Spanglish. Now every time I learn a Spanglish word, I absorb it into my vocabulary and cherish the discovery. But the grammar geek in me still hates printed spelling mistakes.

“I believe things are changing,” says Omar Pimienta, professor of Chicano Art Studies at San Diego City College. “The level of education of Chicano or Latino millennials is much greater than the previous generation, in numbers and in access to education. I believe more than 50 percent of high-school students in California are Latinos. Add the DREAMers, who are in the education system. But they also have to carry the heavy political load of fighting for their citizenship constantly… their identity is in limbo. And I mean that in a good way.”

DREAMers, named for President Obama’s Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors (DREAM) Act, are undocumented students brought to the United States as children and eligible for two-year deferments from the threat of deportation.

According to the California Department of Education, there were 3,360,562 Hispanics or Latinos enrolled in public schools, K–12, for the 2015–2016 year, accounting for 54 percent of students. Up 1.9 percent from the previous year, 78.5 percent of Latinos that started high school in 2010 finished it in 2014, accounting roughly for 42 percent of all graduates.

“They [Hispanics] are more conscious that they need to dominate English to articulate our problematics,” continues Pimienta. “But there’s a sense of pride, empowerment, and of appropriation with Spanglish in the Chicano identity. The people know that there’s nothing wrong with [Spanglish], though they constantly get called ‘pinches pochos’.”

“Mucho party” at Señor Maguey

“Mucho party” at Señor Maguey

Pinches is an expletive used the way f---ing is used. Pocho is a term used by Mexicans to describe Chicanos or Mexican-Americans who lack fluency in Spanish. Though it began as a pejorative term, it has been embraced by tijuanenses to the extent that the city’s professional baseball team the Toros uses the hashtag #TodosSomosPochos (“#WeAre AllPochos”).

Pimienta, despite being Mexican-American, does not consider himself a full Chicano. Pimienta was born in Colonia Libertad, the neighborhood closest to the San Ysidro border crossing.

“The institution forces you to reject your culture, it forces assimilation. And to assimilate, you have to renegade everything, and the first thing you renegade is Spanish. And it is problematic because when they turn back to learn about their own culture, they don’t have the language anymore. So when they visit, people make fun of them — ‘Why doesn’t he speak Spanish if he is a moreno paísa (brown countryman)?’ What people ignore is that they went through an acculturation process.”

The possessive apostrophe in “Andy’s” does not exist in proper Spanish.

The possessive apostrophe in “Andy’s” does not exist in proper Spanish.

Asked about Spanglish in his own language, Pimienta answers, “There are words that I can never escape. For example, I’m never going to say ‘estacionamiento’ [‘parking’]; I’m going to say ‘metete al parking.’ Or ‘la troca’ [‘the truck’]: I’m never going to say ‘camioneta’; I’ll always say ‘troca.’”

“What about ‘lavabo’?” I interjected. Lavabo is the Spanish word for “sink.”

“What’s that? Oh… sink! Yeah, I don’t even question that one. There are many that I don’t question at all.”

Like most border people, Pimienta peppers his Spanish conversation with English seemingly without noticing. Something that I once despised, and now I do it regularly.

Spanglish is the main language of border crossers and to many others in California. It can be English with Spanish peppered throughout or the other way around. Many dialects exist. California Spanglish is not the same as Florida (mostly Miami), New York, Puerto Rico, or Texas Spanglish.

The term Spanglish is attributed to Puerto Rican journalist and poet Salvador Tió Montes de Oca. Tió first coined the word (originally espanglish or ingliñol) in 1948 in an essay titled “From the Bone Marrow: Theory of Spanglish.” Salvador Tió viewed Spanglish in a negative light, as a pollutant of both languages, very much the way I saw it at first.

“Timer” pronounced “time-air” in this case

“Timer” pronounced “time-air” in this case

“The conversations with my cousins were in English, with some Spanish,” Pimienta says. He has family in both countries.

“It was relatively easier to have family del otro lado [from the other side] back then. Operation Gatekeeper stopped the border dynamic of having families dispersed. Then the fall of the peso with [Mexican president Ernesto] Zedillo, though in reality it was Salinas [who] pushed a lot of people to the United States. Migratory politics became complex with Clinton.”

Operation Gatekeeper started in 1994 with the mission to “restore integrity and safety to the nation’s busiest border,” halting illegal immigration. Zedillo was the president of Mexico at the time when the Mexican economy plummeted, though Pimienta believes it was the fault of the previous president, Carlos Salinas.

“But now, with Obama’s massive deportations, we have a lot of children who came to live with their deported parents. It’s like a second wave of people with double citizenship.”

President Obama has deported more people than any other president — over 2.5 million. Many of them were deported to Tijuana.

“When I started writing at the beginning of the 2000s,” Pimienta recalls, “there was a bilingual movement. It was being studied a lot, the supposed English ‘contamination’ in Northern Mexico’s literature. My posture was to write poetry in a stylistic way, not necessarily focusing on a word, but on a theme. It has a bunch of pochismos [Spanglish terms], or a lot of code switching.”

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The writer is missing the point. Compartmentalizing language is primarily for purists that have learned either both or multiple languages correctly and use them within given contexts in oral or written form. Border communities are always being flexible especially in areas of commerce and business because language takes a back seat to results. I have witnessed a hybrid between Spanglish (or Ingliñol) but it is a result of melding and blending of cultures and economies. I expect more of this diglossia and ambilingualism and bipart-lingualism to be present in the American Southwest and Mexican Northwest. In many ways hybridity is okay because it serves a purpose to communicate via an expansion of language(s). Border Spanish and English usage will blur walls and allow permeability, oddly, improving communication.

I am 55 years old and was born and raised in EastLA. Long before it was called spanglish it was called calo and was used primarily by the pachucos. I speak both English and Spanish fluently but calo is my preferred tongue because I am a Chicano. So I mean it when I say, "Orale vato, you did good, ese."

I enjoyed reading this article. It brought memories.

To this day, I despise the insertion of English words such as “ticket”, “marketing” or “parking” to a conversation in Spanish. But I do tolerate other words. For example “clutch”, this is a word I learned it and used it most of my life, I did not even know there was actually a word in Spanish that meant the same, which is a word I have never heard anybody using it, ever. It would sound strange. And, when speaking informally with my friends I do use the word “Cora” for the $0.25 USD coin. It comes naturally, I don’t even consider it “Spanglish” as it has been adapted and inserted into the region’s Spanish. Strangely enough, “Peseta” is a more acceptable term for the same coin. “Peseta” was the Spaniard currency prior to the Euro. At one point in time the Mexican peso exchanged for four Spaniard pesetas. A peseta was a quarter of a peso, and for that reason northern Mexicans associated a quarter dollar with a “peseta”.

Later I learned (from reading Mafalda) that the Argentinians use the word “living” to refer to the living room area of a home, rather than using the Spanish word equivalent, which is sala. This means that the influence of English reaches every corner of the continent, therefore it is not hard to imagine the impact on the closes city

Most destruction of both languages comes from informal learning of English, and poor education. The informal learning of the English language is via tourism, television, and radio. All the San Diego TV channels and radio stations reach Tijuana. And poor education, our reading habits as a nation are very poor; and of course, this reflects when we write. Regarding names of restaurants or items on menus, when some of our culinary bilingual (or Spanglish) friends open their businesses north of the border, they take full advantage of the lack of knowledge by US authorities of slang, double-meaning words in Spanish, and give their restaurants nasty, bad taste names, for example the “Mama Testa” taco shop in Mira Mesa.

In Tijuana and throughout the country the language is destroyed even at the college level, for example private universities (both for profit and not for profit) promote their grad-level business degrees as MBAs, rather than using what the actual degree says: “Maestría en Administración de Negocios”. For example, check the Cetys Universidad link below:


and notice the use of the word “expertise”. There is an equivalent and common word in Spanish. I wrote about this back in 2013, I titled the article “ Sobre Espanglish y MBAs” (it is in Spanish) :


One thing is for sure, unlike the author, except for the few exceptions I listed, “cora”, “renta”, “clutch”, I will not succumb to Spanglish. I hope. 

It looks like I missed a "t". Oh well, I did include myself when I stated that we don't read enough as a nation. :)

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