Monday, July 10, 2006

Gracias, Trini Lopez

This is a copy of an e-mail I just sent to Trini Lopez, whose "Latin Album" may actually have been the first spark to ignite Chispa!

I had been looking at a copy of his album on my wall (I have it framed), decided to Google him, and came across his e-mail address ... here is the result.

Hola Mr. Lopez,

It occurred to me the other day, as I was looking at the framed cover of my absolute favorite "The Latin Album" on my wall (sharing a space with the cover from Eydie Gorme and Trio Los Panchos' "Great Love Songs in Spanish"), that I should write to you to thank you for sharing your music with the world, and in doing so, sparking a lifelong love of Spanish for me, and helping me to become what my friends call an "honorary Latina."

Despite the fact that my mother was a Spanish and French professor, and she originally spoke Italian as a child, I didn't grow up speaking any language other than English. But I did inherit my mother's facility for languages. And, just as fortunately, I also "inherited" the two record albums mentioned above, which she must have bought in the 1950s or whenever they originally came out.

I started studying Spanish in 11th grade and immediately knew I liked it. But I think it started to become much more than "like" when I came across "The Latin Album" in our family's extremely tiny LP collection. I listened to that record over and over and over. And over again. I loved every song, even before I could understand the lyrics. And then, miraculously, after all that listening, I started to be able to understand the lyrics!

(My mother also knew the power of your music to teach Spanish -- once I sat in on one of her college Spanish classes, and she was using your version of "Adelita" to teach the subjunctive.)

I have listened to that record over and over and over again in the more than 30 years since. I recorded it onto a cassette tape. And then FINALLY, after a very exhaustive search (ending up with a record store in England), I was able to find it on CD and bought it, along with a few extra copies for my dearest friends.

Since falling in love with Spanish language and culture -- and yes, I do think it was "The Latin Album" that really started it -- I have lived in Spain, become fluent in Spanish, gained an entire community of Latin friends, become a Spanish teacher, and now, a producer of Spanish educational videos featuring US Latinos.

And I have become a Latin music addict; I can't tell you how many CDs I own and how many albums I have bought from iTunes, in every Latin genre you can think of, from bolero to rock to pop to flamenco to merengue to salsa to reggaeton to you name it.

And my favorite, favorite album, through it all, is still "The Latin Album."

Thank you so, so much for being a spark for me. I hope I am a spark for others to also fall in love with Spanish language and culture ... and that's why I named my Spanish educational video company "Chispa Productions." And my videos are designed specifically to teach Spanish by featuring the Spanish language and Latino cultures in the United States, and by celebrating the contributions of Latinos to our culture. With this, I feel as if I have come full circle from when I first started learning Spanish 30 years ago, with the Spanish language songs of a Mexican-American singer born in Texas.

I wish you all the best, and once again -- un millón de gracias.

Un fuertísimo abrazo,

Ruth Kunstadter

Saturday, July 08, 2006

Viva el Star Ledger

It seems I write a lot of posts on how some people react with what I will euphemistically call "insensitivity" to other languages and cultures in this country.

But sometimes I also have an opportunity to commend someone who has done exactly the opposite, showing how our other languages and cultures here are to be celebrated and promoted, not feared and smothered.

Today I get to do both!

Originally, I planned to write about the mayor of Bogota, NJ (that's pronounced Bo-GO-ta, not Bo-go-TA, by the way), who was offended by a McDonald's billboard in Spanish. He wasn't offended by what the billboard said (it was promoting iced coffee, not undocumented immigrant rights or any other political issue). No, he was offended by the mere fact that it was in Spanish!

According to Mayor Steve Lonegan, putting up billboards in Spanish sends a message to immigrants that they don't need to learn English. He labled the billboard "divisive," and called for a local boycott of McDonald's.

Marisa Trevino, in her always on-target blog Latina Lista, points out how faulty the reasoning behind these sentiments is, and just how harmful such attitudes can be.

And that was my original story, too.

But then I turned to the editorial page in the same paper. And this is what I read, word for word:

Bogota Mayor Steve Lonegan objects to a billboard pushing iced coffee that was put up in his Bergen County town. It's not the cold java that upsets him; it's that the billboard is in Spanish. That sends a message that Spanish speakers shouldn't learn English, he says. In any language, that's just silly.

Además, un cartel en español puede animar a los anglo-parlantes a apreciar este bello idioma. Y, tal vez, aprender a pronunciar Bogotá.


Viva el Star Ledger and its editors for their stand on the issue, and for their wonderful use of Spanish in making their point. They officially get my new Viva La Chispa award for being a spark of support for Spanish language and Latino culture in the United States, and for doing it with a sense of humor, too! Other Viva La Chispa honorees would have to include the producers of "My Name is Earl", and the Little League International organization (see links to my previous posts to find out why!).