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Ilan Stavans converses with students about the marriage of English and Spanish words

By Melina Bourdeau


“¿Como estas?”

“So, are you are going to go to the campamento?”

“I don’t know, tengo que preguntarle a mi papá”

“OK, dejame saber what he said.”

Conversations like these, in Spanglish, the hybrid language of English and Spanish, are becoming more and more common in America today, according to Ilan Stavans, the foremost scholar of Latino Literature in the United States.

He spoke about the growing culture of Spanglish in a discussion on April 9 in the Ecumenical Center led by English Professor Carlos Martinez.

The conversation began with Stavans explaining that he did not identify as a Latino until he was in the United States, saying that there were no other Latinos in the area where he moved. Stavans argued that he believes the census is wrong – there are 55-60 million people who identify as Latino. As defined by Stavans, being Latino is the “desire or compulsion to be in a community, a nation within a nation.”

The language of Spanglish was described in three categories: the use of Spanish with English grammar, the marriage of both Spanish and English words or a syntactical conversion of the two languages.

He compared the two languages as his lovers, because it is the two languages “having sex.” Stavans laughed as he explained that he enjoys his “lovers” for diYerent reasons, and by speaking Spanglish he is able to be a different person.

“There is a pleasure principle,” said Stavans. “No two people will agree on how to structure a sentence. As long as the language is communicating, it is doing its job. It is liberating.

“What is exciting about being a Latino today is that it is a contested way of looking at who we are and an identity that is still in formation,” Stavans said.

He asked the audience to raise their hands coinciding with each movement of immigrants from first to third generation.

Then Stavans detailed the waves of Latino immigrants who are constantly moving into the United States. Afterwards, Stavans elaborated, stating that because there are so many people that identify as Latino constantly immigrating, it is difficult to determine where one generation ends and another begins.

Despite two power outages during the conversation, Stavans concluded with an additional Q&A from audience members.

Fernando Rodriguez, a sophomore and president of the Student Leaders in Diversity, asked, “As an educator, is it possible to be inclusive to students who don’t speak Spanglish?” Stavans replied that Spanglish is not for everyone. It cannot be taught because students have to come into the courses with knowledge of Spanish and English fluently.

He said that languages, in general, are used for whatever reason, and if they don’t survive there is no need for them – they have to have an “argument.”

Professor Martinez posed the last question about what Stavans imagines for the future of Spanglish. Stavans explained that he has high hopes for it as a subculture where “we are in a moment where you can take classes in Spanglish.”

Stavans then told the story of when he taught the first course on Latino Literature in Spanglish at Amherst College. He said there was a major pushback by donors and others on campus against the course, but that did not deter him. He has now taught the class for 10 years.

Stavans said, “It is provocative way of speaking, a cross-breeding of ethnicity and a cultural language.”

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