In the Eulalia Juarez family household in Los Angeles, you can hear the combination of languages, English and Spanish.
“Me pasas la ketchup,” said Estella to her older sister.
“Pero you’re closer, no seas huevona,” Dania responded.
The combination of languages has been in North American culture since the beginning. Whether melding English and Spanish or English and Mandarin or Spanish and Tagalog, the combining of languages has been practiced by immigrants throughout America for practical, social and personal reasons. Unfortunately, some people view hybrid languages, such as Spanglish, as a sign of someone laziness or poor education.
“Tell me what you would tell the teacher if you were in my situation,” said Eulalia Juarez, the mother of Dania and Estella. “Tell me what you would tell her when she says that I’m contaminating my daughter’s English because I speak to them in Spanish.”
Approximately, 70% of Hispanics aged 16-25 reported using Spanglish in their daily conversations, according to a recent Pew Research Center study. The group of Hispanics who participated in the survey reportedly were both bilingual and descendants of immigrants.
What’s so bad about speaking Spanglish?
The answer is nothing, says Dr. Malcolm Finney, a former linguistic professor at California University Long Beach. Rather, he says, here are a number of benefits to learning more than one language while growing up.
“Some parents think that it’s better for the kids to grow up speaking English only and then when they get older they can learn the home language, and that doesn’t usually work”, Finney said. “By the time the kids get old enough for the parents to introduce them to the home language, they’ve grown up mainly monolingual and monocultural and it’s easier for a young child to grow up bilingual and bicultural than it is for an older individual.”
According to Dr. Finney, the younger that children are exposed to multiple languages and cultures, the more likely they will be tolerant of other languages and cultures.
Consider, Alzheimer’s patients who were bilingual tended to be diagnosed with the diesease 4.3 years later as compared to monolingual patients, according to reports by the American Academy of Neurology. Also, the bilingual patients showed symptoms 5.1 years later than those who were monolingual.
Christopher Rosales, professor of Chicano Studies at California State University, Long Beach, says the bad image so often attached to Spanglish in America may in part be blamed on prevalent negative representation of Latinos in movies and TV shows.
The representation of Latinos in American mass media is too often limited to Latinos living in inner-city areas, in neighborhoods where Spanglish is spoken freely, Rosales said. These neighborhoods tend to be shown as crime-ridden, dirty and dangerous, an unspoken result of inescapable social, economic and environmental factors. The subtle fact that Spanglish has little to do with the crime or danger depicted is lost or hidden in Hollywood scripts.
“Those characters end up speaking Spanglish probably because they’re generic, off-the-cuff stereotypical representations of an area where most people speak Spanglish,” Rosales said. “I think that gives the stereotype of people who speak Spanglish [as being] probably uneducated, gangbang culture, whatever, but it’s reversing the logic. It’s actually just that [the media] only shows Latinos who come from this one area and so that’s why the population believes that Spanglish speakers are this way.”
Despite these stereotypes, Rosales said, there appears to be a rise of change in literature and films in how they represent those speaking Spanglish.
Recent big budget Latino movies and TV series, such as “In the Heights,” Jon M. Chu’s screen adaptation of the Tony-winning Lin-Manuel Miranda musical, and portray working-class characters such as Usnavi and Daniela, who constantly switch between English and Spanish while speaking with people from their neighborhood. In addition, the character of Nina Rosario provides viewers with an inside look of a character who is second generation Puertorriqueña and the first in her family to go to University.
In addition, authors like Ilan Stavans, now translate stories originally written in English or Spanish into Spanglish. His most recent translation is “Alicia’s Aventuras en Wonerlandia.“
Rosales recommends looking toward multilingual education to help combat negative connotations associated with street-born, hybrid languages like Spanglish.
“All it takes is one moment of falling in love with speaking another language with another human being for us to realize that languages are not threatening,” Rosales said.
“Multilingual education for everyone in this country would make huge steps toward equity,” he said, “huge steps towards seeing each other as equals and treating each other as part of the same human race.”