Friday, December 30, 2005

Todo empieza con un sueño

Last night I went to Joe's Pub in the Village to see "The Latin American Songbook", a one-hour show by Rubén Flores. I wasn't familiar with Rubén Flores, but the description of the show – a journey of poetry, music and passion – sounded perfect for me.

And it was.

Rubén Flores is a very attractive young Mexican actor, he sings beautifully, he's charming and personable, and he picked a wonderful variety of songs, a mix of old and new, popular and traditional, from Puerto Rico, Mexico, Spain, Perú, Cuba, Argentina, Chile, Brazil...... but he's also much, much more than just a talented cabaret act. He's a young man who is thinking about his dream, working to achieve that dream, and at the same time trying to process what it means to try to achieve that dream.

Each song reflected a step in the journey, as he wove the lyrics together with stories of his life and his desire to come to the United States to make his mark here. He talked about how lonely and anonymous it can be. One line I loved was when he said, "Sometimes I feel so unloveable, even my dreams want to break up with me." And he talked about his struggle to be true to himself as an artist.

After his opening song, Déjame Soñar, he spoke about the word soñar in Spanish – how in Spanish you dream with someone, not about someone .... so essentially, in Spanish, as you are dreaming about someone, that someone is also dreaming about you. You are dreaming together. How true .... and just one of the many, many reasons I love the Spanish language so much. So many things are inherent in Spanish that just can't be expressed in English. I know that's exactly what keeps bringing me back to the concept of The Bilingual Soul, how we have different personalities and even different souls when we move from one language to another.

I gather that this show is a once-a-year event, but I'd love to see it happen on a much more regular basis (and for longer than one hour!). In the meantime, you can check out to keep up with this very thoughtful and very talented young artist.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

Las arepas – ¿caraqueñas o maracuchas?

¡Qué ricas!

Last night I had a group of friends over ..... mostly Spanish teachers (we teachers need to party!!) and some other friends, from the US, Venezuela, Puerto Rico, Colombia, Ecuador, Cuba, Italy, Canada (French), Belgium ... and probably a few more places I'm not remembering. I love bringing people together to celebrate all of our stories.

My two Venezuelan friends, Liz Sandra and Gilde, brought the ingredients to make arepas, a truly delicious side dish typical of Venezuela. Made with a base of corn meal, they can be rounded and white (al estilo caraqueño), or flatter and yellow, colored with achiote (al estilo maracucho)


Little did I know we were in for a chapter of the long-running but light-hearted feud between the caraqueños and the maracuchos! Gilde is from Caracas, and Liz is from Maracaibo.

Liz and Gilde both showed up with the main ingredient, a cornmeal flour called Harina Pan...

Harina Pan

...and their Tosty Arepas:

Tosty Arepas

La maracucha, Liz was also packing her achiote seeds to add color y sabor. The seeds are heated in oil until they release their color, then the oil is drained and added to the masa.

To make the masa for the arepas, you mix the Harina Pan with water and salt. Liz explained that there are heated discussions about the best way to do this – in some places you put the flour down first and then add the water; in others, you start with a bowl of water and add the Harina Pan into that. You mix and mix until you have a smooth masa.

La caraqueña, Gilde, kept her masa blanca, while Liz added the achiote-colored oil to give her masa a rich yellow glow.

Then to the preparation – two different cities, two different ways. Both started by breaking off a large chunk of masa and rolling it into a ball. But that's where the similarity ended. Liz flattened out each ball of dough and placed it on a hot iron griddle (my Mexican comal that I bought after my trip to Oaxaca). She toasted the disks on the griddle until they were browned, and then put them in the oven to finish cooking. The true test of whether she did it right? If they puffed up while in the oven. They did!! And they were delicious. (And by the way, she never used her Tosty Arepas!)

Arepas maracuchas

Gilde took her balls of dough and put them directly onto the Tosty Arepas. This is the coolest appliance! (I think it's going to be on my Christmas list ...) To add some more flavor, she took the pan drippings from the roast pork that had just come out of the oven and greased the Tosty Arepas with that. Close the lid of the Tosty Arepas, click it, let it cook through one cycle for soft arepas or two cycles for ones with a crispier outside, and they're done!

Arepas caraqueñas

There was no contest – there were two clear winners, both la arepa caraqueña and la arepa maracucha. Both were absolutely delicious, and were finished up so quickly that a second round of masa had to be made.

Now, the next morning, I'm wishing I had some for breakfast ..... they are often eaten for breakfast in Venezuela, and I can see why; I would eat them at every meal! .... Hmm, there's still some Harina Pan downstairs ...

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

A Los Reggaetoneros -- Cuidado con lo que dicen

I got this AP release from my Yahoo noticias en español ... I could not agree more. I hope that someone transforms reggaeton with positive, beautiful and socially conscious lyrics, the same way Juan Luis Guerra did with bachata.

2 de noviembre de 2005, 01:56 PM

Diego Verdaguer a reggaetoneros: Cuidado con lo que dicen  

(AP) - NUEVA YORK (AP) _ "El reggaetón es una ola muy interesante y alegre, un ritmo muy contagioso, pero ... a veces sería mejor que no tuviera letra", opinó el miércoles el cantautor argentino Diego Verdaguer al iniciar su primera gira estadounidense con su esposa y compañera de éxitos, Amanda Miguel.

En entrevista con la AP horas antes de presentarse en el SOB's de Manhattan, Verdaguer recomendó a los intérpretes de reggaetón que tengan "cuidado con las letras, porque el público joven es el que va a ser adulto y va a tener posiciones de gran responsabilidad en el mundo".

Agregó que cuando uno disfruta de liderazgo como cantante del momento debe decir cosas positivas para el futuro de la sociedad, porque si no estaría haciendo mal uso de esa oportunidad.

La pareja se encuentra en Estados Unidos para promocionar el más reciente álbum de Miguel, "Piedra de afilar", así como una compilación de éxitos de ambos en vivo, "Siempre fuimos dos", de próximo lanzamiento.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

100 Preguntas

I usually don't like these "get to know me" e-mails in English and I never answer them, but I got this from a dear friend and thought it might be a fun thing for Spanish students. (Although some questions might need to be changed a bit...) If anything, they might be interested in seeing the Spanish version.



1. Que hora es?

2. Nombres y Apellidos?

3. Edad?

4. Fecha de Nacimiento?

5. Estuviste enamorado anteriormente?

6. Estas enamorada(o)?

7. Has hecho Una Locura de la cual No te Arrepientes?

8. Tienes un Secreto que jamás podrás decir a alguien?

9. Religión?

10. Rumbero(a) o Pacifico (a)?

11. Te has emborrachado?

12. Amaste tanto a alguien como para llorar?

13. La Mejor Sorpresa que recibirías?

14. Estuviste en un choque de autos?

15. Como te vistes en este momento?

16. Cerveza o vino?

18. Sabor de helado?

19. Sabanas lisas o con animalitos?

20. Canción que estas escuchando en este momento?

21. Flor?

22.Tema de conversación mas detestado?

23. La gaseosa, con o sin hielo?

24. Tom o Jerry?

25. Disney o Warner Bros?

26. Restaurante de comida rapida?

27. Ultima visita a un hospital?

28. De que color es la alfombra de tu dormitorio?

29. Como llamabas a tu osito de dormir? .

29.Como te ves dentro de 10 años?

31. Cual de tus amigos(as) vive mas lejos?

32. Lo mejor?

33. Hora de dormir?

34. Quien piensas que te responderá mas rápido este e-mail?

35. Mascotas?

36. Mejores amigos?

37. Amigos especiales?

38. Amores platónicos?

39. Que cambiarias de tu vida?

40. Que dejarías como esta?

41. Cuantos timbrazos antes de contestar el telefono? .

42. Video preferido?

43. Cd Preferido?

44. Lo primero que piensas en la mañana cuando te levantas:

47. Si pudieras ser otra persona quien serias?

48. Algo que tienes puesto siempre y no te lo sacas?

49 Que hay en la paredes de tu habitación? .

50. Que hay debajo de tu cama?

51.Cual es el auto de tus sueños?

52.Algo a la persona que te envió este mail?

53. Nombra a la persona que tal vez no lo contestara?

54 Quien te gustaría que lo respondan?

55. Que le dirías a alguien y no te animas?

56. ¿Qué es lo que mas te gusta hacer?

57. Prefieres Noviazgo o Free?

58. Momento mas triste de tu vida?

59. Momento mas humillante?

60. Persona mas loca y la mas sencilla que conoces?

61. Que buscas en el sexo opuesto (pareja)

63. Que fobias tienes:

64. Te ha gustado un amigo/a tuyo/a?

65. Que piensas de la muerte?

66. Tiempo que tardas en arreglarte?

67. Lugar al que mas te gusta ir?

68. Revista favorita?

69. Le darías un beso apasionado a la persona que te envió este mail?

70. Que es lo que mejor que puedes tener en tu vida?

72 A que lugar te gustaría ir de vacaciones?

73. Te irias a vivir a otro pais?

74. Quien no te fallara nunca?

75. Carta o E-mail?

76. La persona que extrañas?

77. Caricatura preferida?

78. Equipo de futbol?

79. Darías un beso apasionado a alguno de los que les mandaste este mail?

80. Programa de Tv Favorito?

81. Peor sentimiento del mundo?

82. El mejor sentimiento del mundo?

83. Montañas Rusas?

84. Futuro nombre de tu hijo?

85. Futuro nombre de tu hija?

86. Chocolate o vainilla?

87. Una almohada o dos?

88. Duermes con peluches?

89. Si pudieras teñirte el cabello de que color lo harias?

90. Cual es tu numero favorito?

91. Juego favorito?

92. Que haces si alguien quiere pasarse con tu novio/a?

93. Dile algo a la persona que más extrañas:

94. Tienes focos de colores?

95. Condimento favorito en una ensalada?

96. Qué no te gusta comer?

97. Alguna vez nadaste desnudo?

98. Quien te felicitó primero en tu cumpleanos?

100. Que hora es?

Sunday, October 02, 2005

"Crossover" no more

It seems that every decade had had its hit Spanish song – Perez Prado in the 40s, "La Bamba" in the 50s, "Guantanamera" in the 60s, "Eres tú" in the 70s .... does Madonna's "La Isla Bonita" count for the 80s?

For the most part, these were mere blips on the Top 40 radar, one-hit crossover wonders. They were fun, they were hits, and we all hummed them and did our best to sing along (I didn't speak Spanish at the time, so I was just singing along phonetically). But they didn't herald an entire paradigm shift in the way we listen to music.

But I can tell you right now, there is a huge paradigm shift going on.

I know it when I turn on a Top 40 station and hear not just one Spanish song, but many.

I know it when I my 5th grade students are working on a project and I hear the kid who has always HATED Spanish singing loudly to himself, "Boricua, americana ... ¡dame más gasolina!

And I really know it when I get in the car with my 16-year-old daughter and her friends – my daughter, who has always disliked Latin music and tries to distance herself from my tastes in all things – and instead of asking me to turn OFF the Spanish station, she herself tunes the radio to 105.9 "La calle", and starts singing, "Y yo voy, voy, voy...."

Reggaeton has blasted through whatever we used to think of as "crossover" and firmly established itself in our popular culture. And kids who never paid attention to Spanish before are singing and dancing along. Never mind that they still don't understand what the singers are saying; they're just enjoying the experience.

Actually, it's a very good thing that some of these kids don't understand the lyrics, since every reggaeton song I've ever heard is so raunchy that an English translation would never make it on the airwaves! I hope my students don't start asking me to translate ... but I also hope they'll take the initiative themselves and buy a Spanish dictionary so they can translate for themselves.

Anything that motivates suburban Anglo kids to learn about Spanish language and Latino cultures is valuable, in my book. So let's see how long reggaeton will continue to make my job easier!

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Principe Withdrawal

Well, El Príncipe Azul has ended .... usually when one of my Spanish-language TV addictions is ending, I feel sad to see it go. My husband, on the other hand, is delighted, since (a) he doesn't speak Spanish, (b) what I'm watching in Spanish is not exactly PBS or BBC quality, and (c) the shows I like are always on right at bedtime.

This time, even I'm happy to see it go, although I did enjoy the guilty pleasure of watching it. But enough is enough, and even I have my trashy TV limits.

In last night's finale, the two replacement príncipes chose their princesas. The only thing I will say is that it seems they were both fairly intelligent men who seemed to vote more with their brains and/or hearts instead of lo que tienen entre las piernas, as it was so delicately put by the original príncipe's Tía Rosita on the show. Although that other part led them pretty far as well.

I remember a phrase a Venezuelan friend once taught me: Cuando la cabeza de abajo se calienta, la cabeza de arriba no piensa.

Nice to know some men use la cabeza de arriba.

Not that anyone expects either of these relationships to last. But it did make for interesting TV while it lasted.

So enough of the Príncipe, and back to real life. Although with Katrina, Rita, Iraq, and who knows what else, "reality TV" almost seems like a better choice than reality itself.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Principe Surprise

Wow, talk about spoilers!

If you are watching El Príncipe Azul and want to be surprised, don't read this.

According to People en Español, Leonardo García, the supposed star of Telemundo's new reality show (although the real star, and the guy running away with the show, is Andrés García, su papá), dropped out of the show mid-way through filming. The magazine says that Leonardo realized he was still in love with a former girlfriend and didn't feel right about going out with the Príncipe Azul candidates when he knew he didn't really want to be with any of them. So he left the show and took off for Mexico.

We'd seen inklings of something "big" happening, when in the last few shows Leonardo didn't show up for his dates because of a supposed stomach ailment (again, a little too much information on this was provided by Andrés). I'm actually glad that Leonardo seems to have a personality and some cojones, because he was coming off as quite pale y muy soso in comparison with his outrageous papá.

So how did the producers deal with this? According to the article, they came up with not one other príncipe, but two. No word on how the girls felt about this or what the final outcome was. And I wonder where this leaves la mamá y la tía.

And of course, Andrés stays on as presenter.

Which is a good thing, considering that Andrés' excesses are the most entertaining thing on the show -- next to the excesses of some of the girls, including Evelyn, who is coming off as "La Nueva Omarosa."

I guess my real question is, why the heck am I watching this? Well, I can always say it's good language practice. I certainly have picked up some new derogatory expressions -- naca, patán, etc. -- thanks to the candidates, who are not exactly getting along well with each other and in some cases, with their hosts; and some new insulting machista phrases -- such as, "Las colombianas son como las cucarachas; puedes barrerlas con la escoba pero regresan por el palo" -- thanks to Andrés, who seems to have no shortage of them in his repertorio.

I've also learned more than I ever really wanted to know about La Bombita, the implant which has revived Andrés' mojo after his battle with prostate cancer. It's interesting to hear something like that discussed so openly -- especially in such a machista environment -- but I think I finally figured out why they keep mentioning La Bombita -- it is a sponsor of the show!

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Mad Hot Ballroom

I was going to say that anyone who is a teacher should go see this movie immediately, to get psyched for the coming school year. August, for teachers, is like a one-month-long Sunday night. You know that Sunday night feeling, when you know the weekend is over and what's facing you tomorrow? That's what all of August is like for us.

So when I see something that is as inspiring as "Mad Hot Ballroom," especially at this time of year, it's a wonderful reminder of why we do teach. Which is why I was going to recommend it to teachers.

But on second thought, I think I need to say that anyone who is a human being should go and see "Mad Hot Ballroom" immediately! It's a truly wonderful -- and wonderfully true -- story about 5th graders in NYC's five boroughs who take part in a 10-week ballroom dance program and ultimately go to a city-wide competition. It's a documentary, so these are not actors playing kids learning how to dance, and dealing with school, family, immigration issues, etc. These are real kids dealing with real issues, and really learning how to dance.

They are fabulous, and so is this movie.

I particularly loved one little boy in Washington Heights named Wilfredo, who had just moved to the US from the Dominican Republic and did not speak much English. But he could learn how to dance.... and when he walks into the World Financial Center's Winter Garden, the look on his face reminded me exactly of the look on Ibrahim Ferrer's face in the final shot of "The Buena Vista Social Club." They share the same innate grace and quiet dignity, and the same look of wonder and pride and amazement at where they are and what they have accomplished.

I also loved one sentence that the teacher at the Washington Heights school used to describe kids who didn't get the right attention when they were young -- "No lo bailaron cuando chiquito." "Nobody danced them when they were young. One of the things I love most about Latin cultures (most of them, anyway), is that you start dancing as soon as you can stand up (even before, really, in your parents' arms) and only stop when you die. Not like our culture here, where dancing has only a limited window in our lives.

I just spent an evening in the company of some 20,000 New Yorkers of Dominican descent, at the "Noche de Herencia Hispana" at a Mets game last week. Pedro Martinez was pitching, and after the game there was a concert by Aventura and by Frank Reyes -- who has a bachata hit in "Tu eres ajena", the merengue version of which (by Eddy Herrera) was prominently featured in the "Mad Hot Ballroom" finals. Shea Stadium was a sea of Dominican flags and Dominican pride, everyone was on their feet singing every word, and dancing, and when Pedro Martinez came out on the field while Frank Reyes was singing -- and started to dance -- the crowd went wild.

We have so, so much that we can learn from all the cultures that have come to this country. I hope that the dancing gene starts to work its way, by osmosis or by marriage, into the mainstream here!

Monday, August 22, 2005

La Chispa del Beisbol

The first Chispa video has been filmed and is almost completely edited! Click here to read about our video shoot with four Latino players from the New Jersey Jackals. What wonderful guys -- ¡tan simpáticos y tan carismáticos! They talk about themselves, their love of béisbol, how old they were when they started playing, how baseball came to their countries, and why they think Latinos are so important to baseball in the United States. (Key word here: ¡sabor!)

I can't wait to finish editing the video and get it out there -- I will have a working copy to show to the players before they leave in September, and with just a few more tweaks and some licensing issues taken care of (I found the perfect song!!!), it will be ready for distribution. I will be looking forward to some valuable feedback from my fellow teachers and Spanish-speaking parents!

Oh, and the video features specially commissioned artwork by María Sánchez of Sandía Fría!

Un millón de gracias y un montón de abrazos for everyone who has been so supportive of this creative chispa and helped make it a reality! ... and especially to Nancy Marmolejo of Comadre Coaching. If you or anyone you know needs a little help to spark your own chispa, contact Nancy!

Saturday, August 13, 2005

LatinaLista and Sequoia Gateway

If you're already a regular reader of LatinaLista, a blog on "anything and everything, from a Latina perspective," written by journalist and public radio commentator Marisa Treviño, you know how great it is. If you're not familiar with it, click on over there right away! I read this every day, and I always learn something new.

LatinaLista's latest posting is on a wonderful program in California called Sequoia Gateway, which helps young Latinos in central California to develop both soccer and academic skills, with an eye toward college scholarships. I happen to have a personal connection with this program, since my former college roommate is the proud stepmom and stepmom-in-law to Amalia and Marvin Lopez, the founders and directors of the program. What a fabulous organization! I am always thrilled to learn about people like Amalia and Marvin, who are really making a difference in their communities.

Check out LatinaLista and learn all about Sequoia Gateway!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Principe Update

Yesterday, I wrote about Telemundo's new reality show, El Príncipe Azul, and the comment made by the mamá norteamericana: "Yo no quiero nietos negros."

I originally thought that the comment was made directly to the Dominican contestant. As it turns out, it was made "privately" to the other women of the family, the príncipe's tía and abuela. "Privately," of course, meaning on national TV. To their credit, the tía and abuela disagreed with the mamá.

Well, I wasn't the only one struck by that comment. Our local Spanish news reported on the reactions around here to those palabras controversiales. And obviously, the producers chose to put that comment on the air because they knew it would be news -- and it would keep people watching.

The interesting thing to me is that it opens up conversations on race and prejudices in all the cultures portrayed in the show. I would like to believe that these prejudices are as pasado de moda as Andrés García's celebrated machismo. But I know that in the real world, they're not.

I live in a town with a lot of interracial families (and a lot of gay families as well). A friend of mine who is white and married to an African-American, with three biracial kids, said to me once: "The white (liberal) kids are always trying to pretend that race isn't an issue. The black kids know it is. Nothing is going to get better until we can all be honest about the issue."

Whatever you think about the machista and exploitative excesses of El Príncipe Azul, it is providing an honest look into both the stated and unstated views on race in Latino and Anglo cultures.

Tuesday, August 09, 2005

El Principe Azul

Never have the cultural differences between Anglos and Latinos been more clear to me than in watching Telemundo's new reality show, El Principe Azul.

Modeled on the U.S. "Bachelor"-type shows, it's ostensibly the search for the perfect mate for Leonardo García, son of the actor Andrés García. But it's also a cultural window into, if not the differences between U.S. and Latino cultures, at least the differences between U.S. and Latino television.

Last night's premier episode introduced Andrés García, his son Leonardo, Leonardo's mother Sandra ("la norteamericana"), and Andrés' sister and mother. There was an extensive interview with Andrés García during which we learned about his numerous infidelities while he was married to Sandra (they're now divorced), his bout with prostate cancer which left him impotent ("me quemaron los aguacates"), the "bombita" which he now employs, which has cured the problem, and various and sundry other personal and intimate details of his life. He delights in his machismo, even while his sister admits that perhaps that attitude is becoming a little pasado de moda.

Interestingly enough, we didn't learn a whole lot about Leonardo, his son! Clearly the star of the show is Andrés...

But anyway, here was the interesting part, and the part that really set it aside from the U.S. shows (which I have to say I have only watched a few minutes of, so perhaps I'm exaggerating the differences).

When the 20 girls of varying Latin nationalities were introduced, they each walked up a red carpet and spoke with Andrés García for a moment, before entering the house that is the set for the show. He flirted with each one, then as she walked away, he made a comment to the camera, with Leonardo watching inside. These comments would NEVER have gotten by U.S. censors! "Esa tiene voz de cama." "Esa está rica, por esa tú y yo vamos a pelear." "Las dominicanas son encantadoras y peligrosísimas." And my favorite, "La fruta guayaba ... después te digo cómo es y dónde se encuentra."

In the scenes from upcoming episodes, we see the girls being interviewed by Andrés and by Leonardo's mother, grandmother and aunt. They ask questions about what the girls are like in bed, whether they've had plastic surgery ... and then at one point, Sandra, Leonardo's mother, says to one of the Dominican contestants, "Perdona, pero yo no quiero nietos negros."

This comment is seen being discussed by the girls -- the Dominican says the mom is a racist -- and then she confronts Sandra about it. Sandra responds with this incredible phrase: "Yo no soy racista, yo soy tejana!" I will be interested to see how the rest of that conversation plays out.

Whatever you think about ANY of the above, and yes, it is all horrendously politically incorrect -- it is really interesting to me that these comments are on the air. Because even though they are politically incorrect, they are honest reflections of what the people are really thinking. And perhaps a lot more honest than any of our supposed "reality" shows.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

A Day Without a Mexican

Run, don't walk, to your nearest video store and rent A Day Without a Mexican, a very moving and yet very funny movie by Sergio Arau.

The premise, if you're not familiar with it, is that all of the Latin Americans in California suddenly disappear for one day. (Part of the joke is that many Californians refer to all Latin Americans as "Mexican".) Of course, farms are suddenly left without agricultural workers, restaurants are left without staff, etc. -- all the cliches you would expect. But there is so much more, because the contributions of Latin Americans in California, and in this country as a whole, are so far-reaching. And this movie, for all of its broad strokes, paints much of this very subtly, but very, very effectively.

It was interesting to see on film the very border -- and the fence into the sea -- that I had just read about in Héctor Tobar's Translation Nation (see my previous post on Libros).

I highly recommend the DVD version of A Day Without a Mexican, in which you can watch the interviews with the director, cast and crew. Here is where the real emotions and the real opinions come out, without the filter of the movie.

And I just want to mention that I can very much identify with a main character, who disappears at a crucial point in this film. What a powerful moment, and it says so much.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

¡Viva el Beisbol! And Hurray for the Little League!

I love Spanish, and I love baseball.

In my last post, I talked about two different "worlds" converging, when my Spanish-language-and-culture passion sometimes crosses paths with my non-Latino daily life. But here are two things that are easy to combine! Over 25% of our major league players are Spanish-speaking. And not only is baseball popular in many Latin American and Caribbean countries, but many of our English-speaking players play in the Venezuelan and other Latin American leagues during the off-season.

I always teach a unit on Latinos in baseball to my classes -- what countries do our Spanish-speaking players come from, which teams have the most (and the least!) Latino players, why do the kids think baseball is more popular in some Latin American countries than others (this is a good geography and history lesson!). The kids pick a player and make a baseball card with his stats, and draw the flag of his country.

It's a natural match: kids, Spanish, and baseball. So much so, that this week I'm planning to film the Spanish-speaking players of our local minor league team, the New Jersey Jackals, for my first Chispa video!

So today I learn that a Little League umpire in Massachusetts prohibited a coach from speaking in Spanish to his team, made up of young Dominican players. In a country still full of "English Only" sentiment, I can't say I'm surprised. What did pleasantly surprise me, though, was the reaction of the Little League International organization. They said there was no such basis for that ruling, and the umpire was dismissed.

¡Viva el béisbol! And ¡viva el Little League!

Here's the full story, from Reuters:

Fri Jul 29, 2005 6:39 PM ET

Umpire reprimanded by Little League

BOSTON (Reuters) - An umpire who ordered a Little League baseball team to stop speaking Spanish during a game this week was barred from officiating any more games this year, league officials said on Friday.

The incident occurred when a bilingual assistant coach shouted out instructions in Spanish to the team's 14-year-old pitcher and catcher, who are immigrants from the Dominican Republic and speak little English, the Eagle-Tribune newspaper reported.

The umpire, whose name has been withheld, then ordered the team to speak only English.

The coach of a Methuen, Massachusetts-based Little League squad said the umpire's ruling banning the use of Spanish on the field demoralized his team and ultimately contributed to its loss in a state tournament game, according to the newspaper report.

Lance Van Auken, a spokesman for Little League International, said in a statement, "The umpire made an incorrect decision, for which there was no basis in the Rules and Regulations of Little League."

As a result, Little League officials will not allow that umpire to work any more games for the remainder of the year.

© Reuters 2005. All Rights Reserved.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

El sexto sentido de los niños

It's always strange when two separate worlds converge .... for example, I never think that the documentary I'm making with two friends on everyday psychic experiences has any connection with my work on Spanish language and culture. But this week, I've had two of those everyday psychic experiences with my son, and both were related to Spanish.

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post about the gender of inanimate objects; my first sentence was, "What makes a table feminine and a tree masculine?" Then the other day, I sat down in a pizzeria with my two sons, and the first thing the younger one said was, "Why is the word for table feminine in Spanish?" I said, "Have you been reading my blog?", and he replied, "What blog?" He had no idea what I was talking about, and I couldn't figure out how he came out with that, when I know I didn't mention it to him.

What followed then was a very funny conversation about why things are masculine or feminine in Spanish -- my middle son said, "'Table' is feminine because all the men are standing at the bar. And 'napkin' is feminine, because men just use their arm." But I was still surprised that the topic had come up.

Then, yesterday I was thinking about writing a post on how I regret not having spoken Spanish to my kids (and I still don't speak to them directly in Spanish, although are surrounded by it all the time, between my friends, my music, and my telenovelas). I actually stopped speaking Spanish at all for ten years, after having my kids, for reasons that are still not totally clear to me ... although I think most of it had to do with losing a part of my self -- my Latina alter-ego -- after becoming a mother, and only reclaiming that within the last 6 or 7 years. Another part was that I'm not a native speaker, and my husband doesn't speak Spanish, both factors that made it less likely for me to speak to them in Spanish. But oh, how I wish I had. And recently I've considered starting to do it.

Then last night, at dinner, this same son said, "How come you never speak to us in Spanish?"

I'm going to have to start watching what I think! And I think I'm going to have to start speaking to my kids -- at least that one -- in Spanish.

Friday, July 22, 2005

Libros –– What I'm reading these days

Summertime – and the break from full-time teaching – has not only freed me up to work more on my creative projects; it has also unleashed the voraciously ravenous reader in me. I should have a revolving account with, since a package seems to be arriving daily from them. But it is so worthwhile ...

Here's some of what I've been devouring of late, in Spanish, English and in several cases a mix of the two:

I just reviewed Killer Crónicas: Bilingual Memories, by Susana Chávez-Silverman, for Cuerpo Magazine, so I won't write that much here except to say that I have never read anything like this book in my life. It is written in a Spanish/English mix that is incredibly fun to read (if you speak both languages -- I'm not sure what it would be like to read this and not be bilingual), but the insights go way beyond fun. It is a true journey of the soul. Read the full review in the upcoming edition of Cuerpo!

Wow, I found this book entirely thanks to el destino; I was looking for another book with "Gringolandia" in the title (recommended by a friend) and came across The Chalupa Rules: A Latino Guide to Gringolandia. Because I am a complete Lotería fanatic, and the book uses Lotería images to tell its story, I had to get it. I'm so glad I did. As I was reading the introductory chapter, I realized that the author, Mario Bósquez, is one of our local TV news anchors, whom I've watched often. All I can say is that after reading that first chapter, I will be looking at him in a completely new light. He describes his story of struggling to make it, of growing up poor, of wearing threadbare jackets on camera as he was establishing his career, of sending every spare penny back home to his family. He credits the love of his family, hard work, determination, persistence, and the wisdom he learned through age-old dichos for his success as the first full-time Chicano television anchor in New York. This is an incredibly inspirational read for adults, and I can really see it as a wonderful book for teenagers as well.

Translation Nation: Defining a New American Identity in the Spanish-Speaking United States arrived in the same shipment as The Chalupa Rules, and I started reading them both at the same time. Héctor Tobar's description of Latino lives in the U.S. traces everything from one individual's border crossing to the Latino community-building that is taking place around the country and changing the culture not only of our larger cities, but more importantly, of many smaller rural and suburban communities as well. This book sends such a positive message about how many parts of our country are not just accepting la nueva onda, but thriving and being rejuvenated through the richness and diversity of the many Latino cultures which have joined their communities. One of my favorite stories is about how the town of Dalton, Georgia handled the influx of Latino children into their schools, with the percentage going from only a handful of Latino kids a decade earlier, to 80% now. I'd like to quote more on this in a later post, but I will just note that there actually are communities that see a need like this, decide to send many of their teachers to Spanish-language classes, the principal herself will go to the very area in Mexico where most of these children come from to learn more about their cultural background, and Spanish and English are heard throughout the school, from both the children and the very Anglo – but newly bilingual – teachers. With all the bad things I keep hearing about education (and seeing some of them myself, as a teacher), this was a truly inspiring story.

The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea, is a beautiful book about a young girl who has a special gift of healing and becomes an important curandera and partera in the time just before the Mexican revolution. What makes this story unique, for me, is that in addition to being beautifully written and extremely engaging, it is based on a real person – Urrea's great-aunt (his tía abuela, as I just mentioned in a previous post). Urrea's bio notes that this novel "took twenty years of travel, research and study amoung the healers to write." I'd like to read more by Luis Alberto Urrea, and I'm sure I'll be ordering more of his books soon.

OK, this one you need to speak Spanish for, but if you do, buy this book and read it. I have enjoyed Gioconda Belli's powerful poetry, and have read other books of hers, but El pergamino de la seducción is completely different. It's the story of Juana La Loca, the daughter of Ferdinand and Isabel of Spain. I had always heard little bits about Juana La Loca, mainly that she was indeed loca and had a very sad life. This book makes her come alive, and describes the treatment she received at the hands of her parents, her husband, her political advisors, and everyone else who was able to take away her sovereignty, her home, her freedom, her trust, and worst of all, her children, while she could do nothing to prevent it. Belli takes a great deal of poetic license, of course, but she has clearly done her historical research as well... so much so that an in-law of mine, who happens to be distantly related to Juana La Loca and up until now completely bought into the "she was really crazy" party line, may actually be changing his mind a bit now, thanks to this book. Basically, Belli notes that while Juana may indeed have been depressed or bipolar, the abuse, abandonment and imprisonment she suffered at the hands of those she loved and trusted, combined with the callous and forced separation from her children and her few real friends, were certainly enough to make any one of us end up loca.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Gender Identity in Spanish

What makes a table feminine and a tree masculine?

The many forms of the word "the" in Spanish – el, la, los, las – present a challenge for kids (and adults) learning Spanish, and not just because you have to memorize which gender each noun is and then make sure you match up the gender and number every time you refer to that noun. The very concept of inanimate objects having a gender is practically impossible for those of us who are non-native speakers to really understand.

I've always loved the discussions kids have on this subject when they first learn about it, and try to figure it out in their minds – before they can learn to just accept it. They come up with all sorts of reasons for the gender of a window, a clock, a shirt. Eventually, though, they will have to internalize it, so that it becomes natural to them.

If there is a sense behind the gender of inanimate objects, I don't know what it is. Having taken my four years of Latin, I vividly remember having to learn three genders – masculine, feminine, and neutral – but not every inanimate object was neutral. So the gender identity of nouns reaches far back into the very origins of language, with reasons probably too old for any of us to understand now, even if there originally was one.

And even that designated gender identity is not always consistent. Sometimes you can use the same word with el or la, and it will change the meaning, as in the case of el radio, the actual radio itself, and la radio, the programming that you listen to on el radio. Then there are the mixed-up el and la, as in el día and la mano. And then, of course, the variations of Spanish that cause one object to be feminine in one country and masculine in another. "Computer," for example, is feminine in Latin America – la computadora – and masculine in Spain – el ordenador. (there are a ton of chistes on this subject, actually – "Why is a computer feminine" vs. "Why is a computer masculine" – but I doubt that was the original reasoning behind how the words came into use.)

Yesterday, I came across a great passage in a book I'm reading, The Hummingbird's Daughter, by Luis Alberto Urrea, which added a whole new nuance to the subject of gender identity:


"Whereas the North Americans," Aguirre announced, "have no gender in their language."

Aghast, Tomás let out a small puff of air.

"No 'el'?" he said. "No 'la'?"

Aguirre, quite satisfied with his latest astonishment, said: "No. They have the following word: the."

"As in tea?"

"Not té! The!"

"No male, no female?"


"C'est bizarre, mon ami!"

"Los gringos," Aguirre lamented, "are hermaphrodites."

Which begs the question – I wonder if some words in Spanish can be gay?

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Family relations

Having just returned from a week in France with my extended family, I was reminded of how special the "cousin" relationship is. I have always thought that cousins are the best. They're like siblings, but without the competition. They understand you, they know the quirks of the family, and they are the best cómplices you will find anywhere!

I particularly love how the "first cousin" relationship is described in Spanish -- mi primo hermano, "my cousin-brother or brother-cousin." Somehow the words "first cousin" just don't describe how close the family relationship really is. But when you say primo hermano, the bond is clear.

It's the same with tía abuela for "great aunt." A "great aunt" sounds so far removed; it's not even clear from the words themselves what kind of relationship they actually describe. But your tía abuela, your "aunt-grandmother?" You can feel the direct bloodline and the love just in those words.

Are there any other examples of this that I'm missing? Native speakers, please fill me in ....

Thursday, June 23, 2005



When we talk about words or concepts not translating directly from Spanish or English, this is one of the first things that comes to my mind.

Yes, in English we have the word "detail." And yes, detalle can mean the same kind of "detail" in Spanish as it does in English.

But it goes much, much further. And I wish we had not only the word and the concept in English, but the common cultural practice as well.

Detalles are the little things you do for someone else, the thoughtful gift or action that shows you care and that you're thinking about that person. Detalles show consideration for others and are a way of making the world a better place one detallito at a time.

The word popped into my mind at an odd moment the other night. I was at a local pub (yes, we have a new, fabulous, totally authentic Irish-from-Ireland pub in our little New Jersey ex-urb!), and a friend mentioned to me one of the reasons she knew it was a wonderful place. She said, "Did you see the tampons in the bathroom?" I said no, I hadn't visited the restroom yet. She said, "There's a little basket in the bathroom filled with tampons, and if you need one, you just take one! No fumbling around, looking for change, if you need one. What a great idea! How much could that cost, maybe five bucks a month, but what a difference it makes!"

I never thought of a feminine hygiene product being a detalle, but in this case that is exactly what it was. So the Irish must know something about detalles, too...

A little consideration and a little detalle go a very long way, in business, in personal relationships, and in life.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

Los tres papacitos

Well, it is Father's Day, but that's not the kind of papacitos I'm talking about....

If my scanner were working, and/or if it were easier to post pictures or weblinks onto Blogger (I hope they fix that soon!), you would be looking at a photo right now of Chayanne, Alejandro Fernandez and Marc Anthony, who have joined together for a tour across the US this summer. Pop, ranchera and salsa, all in the mix. More and more, Latino artists are working together and blending their styles and genres. It is only a step or two behind what is already happening in this country, in the radio stations and on the streets, in schools and in homes. Television seems even more behind, but it will soon catch up, too.... perhaps with the help of my videos!

Otros tres papacitos are my favorite band, Los Lonely Boys, whom I had el gusto to see in concert on Wednesday night. They were the opening act for Santana, but I have to say, I really went to see them. Talk about papacitos, they have talent and style and just seem like all-around down-home guys to boot. My dream is to see them in a much smaller venue .... but it was exciting to see them in Madison Square Garden playing alongside Santana. I can only imagine how cool that was for them.

Carlos Santana, of course, played beautifully, but my favorite part of his time on stage was when he spoke to the audience about "looking for that place deep down inside you where your light lives." "When you hang out with your light," he said, "great things happen." Beautifully put, and beautifully true.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Táctica y Estrategia

While I was writing my last post, I had to think twice about whether my method of tracking down the titles and artists of Latin songs from the radio should be called a strategy or a tactic. I'm still not sure, but I do know that those two words are forever linked in my mind due to one of my favorite poems by my absolute favorite poet in the world: Mario Benedetti, of Uruguay.


Mi táctica es
aprender como sos
quererte como sos

mi táctica es
y escucharte
construir con palabras
un puente indestructible

mi táctica es
quedarme en tu recuerdo
no sé cómo ni sé
con qué pretexto
pero quedarme en vos

mi táctica es
ser franco
y saber que sos franca
y que no nos vendamos
para que entre los dos

no haya telón
ni abismos

mi estrategia es
en cambio
más profunda y más
mi estrategia es
que un día cualquiera
no sé cómo ni sé
con qué pretexto
por fin me necesites


Saturday, May 28, 2005

Chiquita, dame una cena

I love when Google tries to be helpful, especially in another language!

I am a Latin music junkie and have more CDs than I should probably admit to (and certainly more than comfortably fit in my shelves). Many of these CDs have been tracked down through detective work by yours truly, thanks to this common scenario:

I turn on a Latin radio station.

I hear a song that I've never heard before, and love it.

I anxiously wait for the announcer to mention the song title and/or artist at the end of the song.

It never happens.

All I can say is, por suerte existe el internet, because it is through web searching that I have been able to find all these songs! So my strategy now is this:

I turn on a Latin radio station.

I hear a song that I've never heard before, and love it.

I grab whatever envelope, napkin, parking ticket, or other scrap of paper is available in the front seat and scribble down as many lines from the song as I can (preferably while the car is not moving).

I go home and type the lines into Google. (If I don't do this right away, I will later find weird scraps of paper with odd Spanish phrases on them, and not be able to figure out what they mean....... thank you, perimenopausal amnesia!)

I find the artist, go to Amazon to check out the CD, and it joins the other CDs in my overflowing connection!

Today, though, was one of those days when Google was a little overly solicitous with its help. My search was for a catchy, definitely dated tune with the phrase chiquita, dame una señal.... a very fun song for my next fiesta. If you grew up with Latin music, you might immediately recognize this a song by Roberto Jordan (and later Cox) called Hazme una señal (I believe it's a cover of an English one -- "Just gimme some kind of sign"), but having led a Latin-music-deprived childhood, I needed Google to help me out on this. And help me out it did, so now that CD is winging its way to my sagging CD shelf.

But you know how Google sometimes thinks you couldn't possibly be searching for what you've typed in, and offers its helpful suggestions? This is indeed helpful when you've actually misspelled something. But it can be inadvertently humorous if you haven't, and the mistake is Google's.

Here's what Google wrote at the bottom of my search:

"Did you mean to search for 'chiquita, dame una cena?'"

Kind of changes the meaning of the song.... but maybe it could be a new hit for Roberto Jordan and/or for Cox, whose version is the catchiest. Are they still around? And are they hungry?

Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Las tres mamacitas

Las tres mamacitas Posted by Hello

My Three Muthas partners -- Martha and Nikki -- and I just launched our line of T-shirts for moms -- they're fun and funky shirts that say it all so moms don't have to.... Go to your room, Because I said so, What's the magic word, I need a time out..... A favorite at our first big sale this past weekend was the simple, yet universal, help....

We plan to add a Spanish line (What's Three Muthas in Spanish? las tres mamitas? las tres mamacitas?) and are looking for similar sayings that Spanish-speaking mamás always say to their kids. I've started an informal poll, and here are some of the suggestions we've gotten so far...

Pregúntale a tu papá

Dime con quien andas y te diré quien eres

¡Cierra la boca!

¡cierra la puerta!


¡¡¡Ven acá ahorita!!!

¡Te amo! ¡Te Quiero! ¡Bechito!!

¿De quien es ese culito? ¡¡de Mami!!



¿Te cepillaste los dientes?

¿Estás sordo? ¿Como que hablo chino?

¡dije que no!

¡ya basta!


¡puchica vos! (new to me, but apparently what my Salvadoran friend's mom said all the time!)

If you have any great ideas, either for an English or Spanish camiseta, please pass them along -- if your idea is new to us, and we make it into a t-shirt, we'll send you the shirt for free!

Saturday, May 14, 2005

Funny things that happen in the classroom

I always love it when a student tells me about a connection he or she made at home, between what we're learning in Spanish class and the real world. Sometimes they tell me about a trip they took or a restaurant they went to, where they were able to speak Spanish to someone there. Other times I hear about what they shared with their parents or babysitters. In fact, often I hear "My babysitter says you teach the wrong word for .....", which leads to a great discussion of regional differences in Spanish.

Sometimes, though, despite all the planning and teaching and reinforcing, the kids go home with their own version of things.

My favorite was after I had taught the song "Me duele la cabeza," which is a fun way to review parts of the body. The refrain is, "La cabeza, me duele la cabeza; la cabeza, llámale al doctor." (My head hurts, call the doctor.) It goes on to include the throat, the stomach, the back, and the feet. Lots of movement and lots of fun for the kids as they dance through the song and act out all the different body parts that hurt.

One of my younger students came back one day and said, "Señora Kunstadter, I told my parents about that song you taught us, la cerveza!!

I waited for the phone calls to come, but either the parents like Mexican beer as much as I do, or they have a head on their shoulders and knew that their child was reporting it wrong. Gracias a Dios for parents who take these things with a grain of salt! These days you can be served your cabeza on a platter for just about anything you do in the classroom.....and then you would really need that cerveza... o dos.... o tres!

Wednesday, May 11, 2005

Cubano, but with a Mexican/Puerto Rican/Spanish accent

I wonder if "The Mambo Kings" will ever be played by Cuban actors? In the 1992 film version, the two main characters, brothers Nestor and Cesar Castillo, were played by Antonio Banderas and Armand Assante. The pre-Melanie Antonio spoke all his lines with his native Castillian accent (and recited his English lines by learning them phonetically, since he didn't yet know English). Armand Assante, meanwhile, is New York-born, of Irish and Italian parents. I'm not quite sure what kind of accent he spoke his Spanish with, although he was so magnetic in the part that I didn't really care.

Now comes the stage version, and here's the latest from Yahoo Entretenimiento:

11 de mayo de 2005

Dolencia obliga a Billy Dee Williams a dejar "The Mambo Kings"

(AP) - NUEVA YORK (AP) _ El actor Billy Dee Williams se retiró de la obra en preparación "The Mambo Kings", un musical programado para estrenarse en agosto en Broadway, debido a una dolencia agravada de la cadera.

Marc Thibodeau, vocero del musical, dijo el martes que en breve se anunciará un reemplazo para Williams, de 68 años, quien tenía previsto interpretar el papel de Fernando Pérez, dueño del club nocturno en la obra teatral.

"The Mambo Kings" relata la historia de hermanos Néstor y César Castillo, quienes dejan La Habana en la década de 1950 para ingresar al temerario mundo de los clubes nocturnos de Nueva York. El superastro mexicano Jaime Camil interpretará a Néstor, mientras Esai Morales dará vida a papel de César.

El reparto también incluye a la ganadora del Grammy latino Albita y a Justina Machado, una participante regular en la serie de televisión "Six Feet Under".

El musical, basado en la novela ganadora de un Pulitzer "The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love", de Oscar Hijuelos, se estrenará el 18 de agosto en el Teatro Broadway. Las presentaciones de preestreno empiezan el 20 de julio. "The Mambo Kings" será llevada posteriormente al Teatro Golden Gate de San Francisco, del 19 de mayo al 24 de junio. La obra fue llevada al cine en 1992, con Antonio Banderas y Armand Assante en los papeles estelares.

OK, so we have (or had) Billy Dee Williams as the Latino club owner, Mexican Jaime Camil as Néstor, Mexican-American Esai Morales as César (somehow, I suspect I'm not going to care if he doesn't speak with a Cuban accent, though....what is it about that character, and the men who play him?), and Puerto Rican-American Justina Machado from Six Feet Under. Talk about a pan-Latino/Americano cast!

I'll be interested to see who pulls off the best Cuban accent, or if they even try. Sounds like a great show, though, and worth a ticket! Imagine being transported back to those Latin nightclubs of the 1950s.... I thought the movie did a great job of that (who can forget Tito Puente in that part?), and I can only imagine that on Broadway, you'll feel like you're right in the middle of that pulsating music and those swirling skirts. I know I'll be there!

Monday, May 09, 2005

De regreso

Lamentablemente, I have been remiss in posting for almost three months now.... but it's time to get back in the swing, since so many things are happening.

In linguistic news, I was dismayed to learn that a school in Westchester County, NY had sent home two different versions of a school notice, one in English and one in Spanish. Unfortunately, the Spanish version contained two sentences not included in the English version: one sentence saying that all bodies and clothing were required to be clean, and another warning about involvement with gangs. Unbelievable.

This is one of the reasons I am working to create culturally authentic Spanish and bilingual videos for kids and teens, highlighting U.S. Latinos. The Hispanic cultures here are so rich and diverse, with so much history and so much life, color, and chispa! Yet these stereotypes still exist. It's time to celebrate and honor the Latino cultures and Spanish language that contribute so much to the sofrito of life in the United States.

On other fronts, in addition to making strides - slowly but surely - on my video project, I also published an interview with Soraya (1994 Latin Grammy winner) in Cuerpo Magazine, as well as a book review. I have a new article on "The Soul of Bilingual Music," featuring Michele Greene, in the July/August issue. You may remember Michele from her Emmy-nominated role as Abby on LA Law, but she is also a bilingual singer/songwriter (her mother is Mexican/Nicaraguan), as well as an author and film producer. Talk about doing it all!

Still collecting essays for the anthology, The Bilingual Soul, about the split personality/dual soul that we feel as we move from one language and culture to another. I know I am a completely different person when I speak Spanish, and I know I'm not the only one! It's so interesting to see what others are writing on this topic. It is so personal and individual, yet so universal at the same time.

I am also working with my wonderfully crazy and creative friends, Nikki and Martha, on two new endeavors, both under our new company, Three Muthas. We got together to do a funny but real documentary about the psychic experiences of suburban moms, and ended up with a hilarious clothing and t-shirt line too.

I guess I'm a little ADD -- it runs in the family -- although I prefer to think of it as multi-faceted! But I'm loving all these activities and working with great people. Thanks to each and every one of them, especially my Chispa Circle!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Don't forget to sing in the box especified for the foreigner

When I was flying to Mexico City over the holidays, the flight attendants came through the cabin with the obligatory immigration and customs cards. I dutifully filled mine out, but just as I was about to sign it on the back, this wonderful phrase caught my eye:

"Don't forget to sing in the box especified for the foreigner."

I had to laugh; it brought a great visual to my mind. But then I also realized, who among us has not made an embarrassing slip of the tongue in our own language, let alone in a foreign language?

I have certainly had more than my share of foreign language faux pas. And it runs in the family, too. My cousin is famous in our family for asking a waiter in Rome at breakfast for preservativi. She thought she was asking for preserves, or jam, for her toast. In reality, she was asking for condoms..... the flabbergasted waiter took her by the arm, led her to the door, pointed across the street and said quite firmly, "Signorina, la famacia é lá!" She also had a hard time understanding why the porters at Fiumicino Airport were all giving her dirty looks -- until she realized that instead of calling them facchino, or porter, she had been using the word tacchino -- turkey.

It's all part of the learning process, and we really do learn more from our mistakes. But I still like the thought of singing in the box especified for the foreigner -- it sounds like so much more fun than just signing on the dotted line!

Saturday, February 12, 2005

Corazones Dulces

Sweet Hearts in Spanish! I love them! Beso, Te Amo, Linda, Todo Mío, Mi Vida, Dulce...these are so much fun. My K-5 Spanish students love them, too, although we live in such a politically correct town that I usually have the kids glue them on Valentines cards they make in Spanish for their families, rather than eat them... although I don't count how many actually get glued on the cards!

It's nice to see that some traditions haven't changed from when I was a kid; the students (at least up to 3rd grade) still bring in those little dime store Valentines and put them in little hand-made mailboxes posted around the classroom. Is this a tradition in Latin American cultures as well? What kinds of things did you do for Valentine's Day when you were young, and what kinds of things do people do now? Speaking of which, do you call it El Día de San Valentín or El Día de Los Enamorados?

No matter what you call it, Happy Valentine's Day, Feliz Día de San Valentín and Feliz Día de Los Enamorados a todos!

Saturday, February 05, 2005

Spanish is the language of the soul

I have long believed that each language has its own soul, its own personality. And that when one acquires that language, they acquire that language's soul as well.

For me, the most poetic and most romantic language of all is Spanish. I know many people would disagree – Italian is commonly thought of as the most romantic language – but even though Italian is beautiful, to me it just doesn't have the same depth of soul. Perhaps the difference is that Italian's romantic beauty is more intellectual in a way, whereas Spanish carries with it the sense of earthiness, longing and desire.

A few months ago, I came across this wonderful quote by Carlos Fuentes, who (not surprisingly) feels the same way. He was speaking at the Third World Congress of the Spanish Language:

"Posiblemente el inglés sea más práctico que el castellano. El alemán más profundo. El francés, más elegante. El italiano, más gracioso. Y el ruso, más angustioso. Pero yo creo profundamente que es la lengua española la que con mayor elocuencia y belleza nos da el repertorio más amplio del alma humana, de la personalidad individual y de su proyección social".

"No hay lengua más consonante y más vocal. Escribimos como decimos y decimos como escribimos. ¿Y qué decimos? ¿Qué hablamos? ¿Qué escribimos? Nada menos que el diccionario universal de las pasiones, las dudas, las aspiraciones que nos comunica con nosotros mismos, con los otros hombres y mujeres, con nuestras comunidades, con el mundo."

Translation, with apologies in advance to Mr. Fuentes for any errors in vocabulary or nuance:

"Maybe English is more practical than Spanish. German, deeper. French, more elegant. Italian, more gracious. And Russan, more anguished. But I firmly believe that the Spanish language is the one that with the most eloquence and beauty gives us the broadest range of the human soul, the individual personality, and its social projection.

There is no language more consonant and more vocal. We write the way we speak, and we speak the way we write. And what do we say? How do we speak? What do we write? Nothing less than the unversal dictionary of the passions, the doubts, the aspirations that we communicate with ourselves, with other men and women, with our communities, with the world."

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

How many whats? do I have??

The ñ is one of the things that make Spanish unique from any other language. Other languages have the same sound -- we have the "ny" in "canyon" (which comes from the Spanish cañón, by the way); Italian has the "gn" as in "gnocchi," etc. But no other language has the ñ as a separate letter, something that needs its own key on the keyboard and has its own place in the alphabet and the dictionary. And it is a totally separate letter; it's not just an "'n' with a squiggly thing on top," as my students sometimes call it; it is the ñ.

The ñ is one of the things that complicates computer usage for Spanish speakers. Even though those of us with English keyboards can press some combination of keys to get an ñ, many times it comes out on the other end as a strange combination of letters, symbols and numbers, often resulting in something like the word piñata looking like this: pi//AAA2[?//ata.

The problem gets worse in web addresses, since web addresses definitely do not recognize the ñ. Spanish language websites that wish to use the word español are reduced to calling it espanol. I'm sure the Real Academia Española is cringing over that one.

Some resourceful users type in two n's together to respresent the ñ, while others resort to spelling words with the Anglicized "ny".

Nowhere is this more important than the word año which, without its ñ, becomes a word that only a proctologist should use. When I taught high school, I once took the opportunity to explain to my students that if they subsitute an ñ with a regular "n" in the word año, for example when they are asking for someone's age, they are literally asking them, "How many [parts of the body that you use to go to the bathroom...] do you have?" I'm pretty sure that one analogy was enough to get them to remember the difference – hopefully enough to make them include the "squiggly thing" the next time they write the word.

It's understandable with students who are just learning the language, but how about I just looked up Obie Bermúdez's new album, and it is listed as: "Todo el Ano." Yikes! Not what I really want in my CD player! Sorry, Amazon, I just can't bring myself to order that. I'll go buy it in my local Borders.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

Mucho tilin tilin.....

Spanish expressions are so descriptive and so much fun at the same time. I often get the best ones from my friend Leslie, who spent many years living in Central America. Here is one of my current favorites:

Mucho tilín tilín, nada de paleta.

Literally, it means, "Lots of ding-a-ling, no popsickle."

I guess in English, the equivalent would be, "All talk and no action."

But in Spanish, it's not just an expression; it's practically a whole little story. You can just picture the ice cream truck coming down the street, jingling its little bell, attracting all the kids... ding-a-ling-a-ling... ding-a-ling-a-ling.... you go running after the truck and finally it stops .... all anticipation, you run up to the window with your money but...... there's no ice cream!

For my ice cream money, you just can't beat the Spanish on this one.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

The Lord is My Compadre

OK, this isn't Spanish, but it sure is language and culture.

An article in the Star Ledger yesterday described the Hip-Hop Mass that a local church is holding once a week. Here is the Lord's Prayer from that mass:

The Lord is all that, I need for nothing.

He allows me to chill. He keeps me from being heated and allows me to breathe easy.

He guides my life so that I can represent and give shouts out in His name.

And even though I walk through the Hood of death,

I don't back down for You have my back. The fact that You have me covered allows me to chill.

He provides me with back-up in front of my player-haters and I know that I am a baller and life will be phat. I fall back in the Lord's crib for the rest of my life.

Spanglish version, anyone?

Speaking of Spanglish – and I mean real Spanglish, not code-switching (and not the movie) – I think we are developing a pan-Latino Spanish that is spoken in the United States and that does indeed include many influences from English. And as a friend of mine once noted, if languages didn't change and develop differently in different areas, Spanish-speakers would all still be speaking Latin.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

La sombra del viento

Well, I found my Coyoacán-bought copy of Carlos Ruiz Zafón's La sombra del viento and decided to take a look at it before giving it to my mother. I took off the ubiquitous shrink-wrapped plastic that covers so many Latin American books (why?, I always wonder) and started to read. Within paragraphs, I was hooked. How can you not be, when in the first few pages you are taken to the mysterious and hidden Cementerio de los Libros Olvidados? I just spent most of the weekend glued to the book, ignoring laundry and lesson planning....and finished it only a few minutes ago.

It's a powerful book, beautifully written, and as good a read as Arturo Pérez-Reverte's best (El Club Dumás and La piel del tambor are my favorites). My cousin tells me that the translation in English is exquisite. So whether you read it in Spanish or in English, I highly recommend La sombra del viento. Just make sure you don't have a lot planned for the following few days.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

A long shadow and a small world

Before I left for Mexico, my mother asked me to pick up a copy of La sombra del viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón. She had just ordered the translation of the book in English, but wanted a copy in Spanish as well. She hadn't been able to find it in the United States, and was hoping I could find it in Mexico.

I looked all through many bookstores in Mexico City – not a hardship, since this is one of my favorite activities – including several in Coyoacán. Coyoacán is definitely a haven for bookstores and the people who love them.... Most of the bookstores had never heard of it. Some had it in their listings, but not on their shelves. One directed me to a book by another author named Ruiz, which was clearly rated X. (Wrong Ruiz, sorry!) Finally, in a bookstore in Coyoacán called El Sótano, success! I found it.

One week later, as I was looking through the Libros en español section at my local Barnes & Noble, what book do I see staring out at me from the shelf? Of course: La sombra del viento, by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.

I guess there are many lessons that can be drawn from this .... sometimes the things we are looking for far away are right under our noses ..... the world is becoming a smaller and smaller place ........ Barnes & Noble has a really good selection of libros en español.......

But the most important thing I learned is, now I know where to get a copy of the book, since I can't find the one I brought back from Mexico City!

Sunday, January 09, 2005

Bicho, Part 2

My son just noted that a Cuban entomologist should never go to Puerto Rico and say that he wants to study bugs.

(See Un Bicho Raro, below)

"It's not in Spanish, it's in South American"

First, a disclaimer: I love Spain; it's one of my favorite places in the entire world, I've had some of the most fun times of my life there, I love the people, history, culture, food, etc., and I have dear, dear friends there.

That said, I have to say that the attitude of many Spaniards towards the Spanish of Latin America is something that strikes me, and not always in a positive manner.

Whereas Latin Americans seem to realize that there are many regional variations of Spanish, all of which are "correct" in their own countries, many of the Spaniards I know seem to feel that there is only one real or correct Spanish, and that is the Spanish of the Real Academia Española.

So, according to the RAE and many of my friends from Madrid, it is wrong to use ustedes instead of vosotros when you are addressing a group of friends or family; it is wrong to use the preterite tense (¿Comiste?) instead of the present perfect (¿Has comido?) to refer to something that has happened within the past 24 hours; it is wrong to pronounce the word for "hunt" (caza) the same way you would pronounce the word for "house" (casa). I could go on.... and they most certainly do.

I'm used to this, and as I've said before, I love the heated discussions it engenders. But I still was surprised when the 14-year-old daughter of our friends from Madrid came to stay with us this summer, and went to watch the DVD of Finding Nemo on the Spanish setting. I asked her how she liked it, and she said,

"Well, I thought it was going to be in Spanish. But it wasn't in Spanish, it was in South American."

That was so fascinating to me, and I'm still thinking about it. In addition to reflecting the youthful innocence of a young teenager first coming into contact with other parts of the world, I think it also reflects the larger question of "What is Spanish." Everyone will have their own opinion on that. And every opinion will, in its own way, be correct.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Un Bicho Raro

If you are a native Spanish speaker, how you respond to the above title will depend ENTIRELY on what country you are from.

If you are Cuban, a bicho is a bug – the kind that flies through the air or scurries along the floor. You might also use un bicho raro (literally, "a strange bug") to describe someone as an odd person: El es un bicho raro; he's an odd duck.

If, however, you are Puerto Rican, you are probably shocked to see that word in print, and most likely would never use it in mixed company – because bicho in Puerto Rico means what we might politely refer to in English as a man's "manhood."

There are so many supposedly common words in Spanish that have an unprintable meaning in one Spanish-speaking country or another. The most famous example is probably coger, which in Spain and many other countries means to pick up something, or to take (as in "take a taxi, take a bus,", etc.), but in many South American countries means to have sexual relations. You can imagine the jokes throughout Latin America about Spaniards wanting to have relations with a bus.

To complicate matters even more, the word guagua means "baby" in Cuba, but it means "bus" in Panama. (I'll never understand how that happened.) So, depending on who is speaking and who is listening, coger la guagua could mean, alternately, "take the bus", "pick up the baby", or "have sexual relations with the bus." (I won't even write the last option.)

Other times you can meter la pata, or put your foot in your mouth, with seemingly simple and commonplace words are when you say papaya in certain countries (which can refer to a woman's private parts instead of the fruit), or even pájaro, which normally means bird (back to the "manhood" again)..... And don't even think of using the phrase ponerse la chaqueta in Mexico to mean "put on your jacket," even though that is the literal translation for that phrase and is, in fact, what it actually means in most countries. In Mexico, however, it refers to a solitary sexual activity. Try saying you want to do that as you're leaving a dinner party.....

Actually, the examples of potential linguistic faux pas in Spanish are even too numerous to count. One thing is certain: you will know that you have touched one of those linguistic nerves by the look on the faces of the people you're speaking to. If their eyes open wide, you see them catch their breath and briefly stifle a smile before politely continuing the conversation, you can be sure you've said something that has quite a different interpretation from what you intended.

Just consider it another lesson in how rich and diverse the Spanish language really is. There is always something new to learn, and always some surprise awaiting you.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

12 Grapes at Midnight

It's New Year's Eve. You have 12 grapes in front of you. As the clock strikes twelve, you eat a grape with each strike of the clock, making a wish on each grape as you go. Better eat fast.... and have those wishes ready!

I've often wondered if your first wish should be to not choke on the grapes....

I first learned of this tradition through my friends in Madrid about 20 years ago. In fact, Madrid seems to be the epicenter of the 12 uvas tradition, since it is the strike of midnight at the clock in Puerta del Sol that launches a mass downing of grapes throughout the country. Just as people in the United States watch the ball drop in Times Square at midnight, the Spaniards keep their TVs tuned to the clock in Puerta del Sol, to know just the right second to begin.

The history of the tradition apparently has something to do with grapegrowers in Spain having an overabundance of grapes in 1909, and starting this tradition as a way to get rid of them!

Since I had always associated this tradition with Spain, I was surprised and delighted to find a small basket of grapes on my table for a Fin de Año celebration last week in Mexico City. My friends and I were wondering how we could eat twelve grapes in about twelve seconds, and make twelve wishes at the same time! The pressure seemed immense..... so we wrote out our wishes beforehand. When the clock struck twelve, we were ready, and the grapes were a delightful way to welcome the new year.

I started to wonder how far the tradition of the twelve grapes had spread. I did an informal survey, asking students in my classes if they had ever heard of this tradition from family members or friends who are Spanish-speaking. Students who had connections with Venezuela and Colombia said that they had. My one student from Panama and several students from Puerto Rico had ever heard of it.

One day, I'd love to do a map to trace the trajectory of the 12 uvas, from Puerta del Sol to....... how far? Has anyone heard of this tradition in other countries? If so, let me know!

A Frida Moment

One of the main reasons I went to Mexico City was to make a pilgrimage to La Casa Azul in Coyoacán. I used to just admire Frida Kahlo's paintings, but the more I learned about her life, the more fascinated I became with her paintings, which are such stunning reflections of her soul and her feelings.

This week I've been taking the opportunity to tell my students about Frida. I've done this before – once on Halloween, when I dressed up as Frida Kahlo, unibrow and all – but this time I was speaking from the experience of having been in her house only the week before. (And I have to say that was a very powerful experience.)

I teach K-5, and the book I have – Frida, The Artist Who Painted Herself – is aimed at a fairly young audience. So I almost didn't read it to my 5th graders today; I thought they might find it too babyish, and I really wanted to get back to our regular lessons after such a long break. But I went ahead anyway, because she's such a great persona and a great story.

About three pages into the book, I started to read about how Frida had polio when she was six and had to stay in bed for a year. She was teased at school and called "Frida pata de palo," "peg leg." All of a sudden I remembered that one of the girls in the class has a condition that requires her to wear a brace, which makes her feel very different from the other kids. I looked over at her, and her eyes were huge. I couldn't tell if she was happy or upset; maybe this was too close to home, or perhaps embarrassing for her? As I read further, about Frida's bus accident and the fact that she had 32 operations, was in constant pain, and wore a brace or a cast for most of her life, I looked over again. Her face was flushed, but she was smiling. I have never seen her so excited or animated.

I left the text for a bit to describe how Frida would paint her casts with flowers and birds, in bright colors. One of these casts is still in Frida's house, sitting on her bed. One girl in the class asked if that wasn't "disgusting." I said no, I thought it was beautiful, and it was incredible how Frida turned her pain into something beautiful.

As soon as class was over, the girl who wears a brace came right up to me and said, "You know what's cool? She wore a brace, and I wear a brace! Look!" And she pulled her shirt up a bit to show me her brace.

I said, "Maybe you could decorate your brace the way Frida did, with paint or maybe with permanent markers. Ask your mom. Tell her you learned about Frida, and what Frida did with her casts."

She said, "I could draw pictures of all my friends!.... Oh, I know! I'll draw a picture of Frida!"

I'll be interested to know if she does decorate her brace. I hope she does. Either way, I know that of all the children I read that book to this week, she was the most inspired. I could see it in her face.

But Frida's stories touched so many other kids as well. Several students volunteered that they had family members affected with polio, including the mom of one student – she walks with difficulty, with a cane. Others related to how Frida had been teased at school for being different. And so many students had comments about why Frida would have painted things the way she did. Here are some of their comments:

"Maybe she painted herself uglier than she really was because she didn't think she was pretty."

"Maybe she painted Diego on her forehead because she was thinking about him or she missed him."

"Maybe she never smiled in her paintings because she was so sad about things that had happened in her life."

Frida continues to inspire, not just because her paintings are beautiful and mesmerizing and vibrant and at times shocking, but because we all can relate to the pain she felt, both physical and emotional, that leaps out at us from the canvas. And maybe we all can learn to turn that pain into something beautiful that will inspire others as well.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Los mismos monos en otro circo

Los mismos monos en otro circo. Same monkeys, just a different circus.

I just learned this wonderful expression on my trip last week to Mexico City. I learned so much about Mexico from my absolutely wonderful taxi driver, Rodolfo (contact the Marco Polo Hotel on calle Amberes in the Zona Rosa if you need a fabulous taxista; they can contact him for you). My friends and I had a great discussion with him about Mexican politics. The general feeling among Rodolfo and so many other people I talked to -- in several different cities and towns -- was that no matter what political party is in power or who the president is, nothing about the people's daily lives will really change. Hence, one can describe the political situation as:

Los mismos monos en otro circo. Same monkeys, just a different circus.

It was interesting to note that despite the fact that many people have complaints about the government, or are disappointed, disillusioned or dissatisfied, I did not sense the visceral divisions that have characterized US politics recently. We, too, have our monos and our circos at the top, but lately we as a population seem to be acting an awful lot like monos as well.

Monday, January 03, 2005

What's a Tertulia?

A tertulia is an informal, but regular, gathering of friends or "fellow intellectuals" to discuss issues of great import and interest to all. This could mean politics, literature, culture, whatever. These gatherings can occur in someone's home or, more likely in Spanish culture, in a public space such as a café.

I came across this great definition while searching the internet, which really gets to the heart of the spirit of the tertulia:

"¡Tertulia! When a group of individuals come together and share their ideas, talents and anecdotes in the spirit of interpreting life, when there is song and poetry and when there is wit in conversation, then we say that a ¡Tertulia! has formed."

Is a tertulia transferable to the Anglo world? Do we even have a translation for the word tertulia in English? As with so many concepts from other cultures, we can't translate it with just one word. But we can still bring the spirit and practice of the tertulia into our own lives. Schedule a regular gathering with your friends, maybe once a month, to discuss issues above and beyond your daily lives. And don't forget the music, wine, and spark of life – the chispa that makes it fun.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

¡Bienvenidos a La Tertulia!

Bienvenidos a La Tertulia -- welcome to a celebration of Spanish language and culture!

I'm a Spanish teacher, and have been in love with the language and culture of the Spanish-speaking world probably since a past life. I think my love of Spanish has much to do with the person I become when I am speaking Spanish. In Spanish, I have conversations about the soul. I experience life through poetry and music. I am animated, happy and fun. And I am fascinated by every aspect of this amazingly rich language, as well as the many cultures that speak it.

The linguistic and cultural diversity of Spanish and the Spanish-speaking world is incredible and, in my mind, unmatched. Spanish is the official language in 21 countries -- including Equatorial Guinea in Africa -- as well as a major language in the United States. Despite sharing a common language, each country has its own set of accents, its own special vocabulary, and its own cultural traditions reflecting its history and its people. As fascinating and rich a subject as this is, it also happens to be one of the things that makes Spanish so hard to teach, even at the simplest of levels -- in K-5, for example, which of the many words for the color "brown" should we teach? Café? Marrón? Pardo? Carmelita? (The latter is specific to Cuba, I believe, and is supposedly a reflection of the color of habit that the Carmelite nuns used to wear.) Is purple violeta, morado or púrpura? Is a bedroom una alcoba, un dormitorio, un cuarto, una recámara, o una habitación? And forget about how many translations there are for the word "pig."

Spanish-speakers love to discuss these differences, often in heated arguments in which one accent or phrase is challenged as being "incorrect" by a speaker from another country. One of my favorites was a one-hour discussion among a group of native speakers -- all Spanish teachers, by the way -- on whether it was acceptable to use the word "closet" in Spanish; our Salvadoran and Dominican companions routinely used "closet", whereas our Spanish friend insisted that only gente inculta y sin vocabulario could ever utter such a word.

For me, there is no right or wrong in this case. It is all part of the amazingly intricate fabric of Spanish language and culture, which we are celebrating here in La Tertulia.