The American Renaissance

Baja Canada del Sur: Comedy and Comment in the Age of Occupation

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Location: Little Rock, Arkansas

found done in needlepoint on Mel's Front Porch: I Pledge Alligence to the Constitution of the United States of America. And to the Republic for which it guarantees, One Nation, Undeniable, with Liberty, Truth, and Justice for All.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Mala yerba, nunca muere...

That's an old folk saying my mija in Texas, Gina, turned me on to recently that made me laugh out loud. The rough translation for us Gringos (or Gringas) is "a bad weed never dies". I laughed not only because it is so true, especially referring to the pendejo we were discussing, but also because she provided translation before I could work it out for myself in my halting Espanol.

I knew yerba is grass or weed, mainly because I looked it up after finding a great CD, Island Life, by a group based in Manhattan called Yerba Buena (good grass; get it?). This is a bunch of folks who happily blend several genres of Latin, Caribbean, and African music with an extremely playful attutide towards "Spanglish". I doubt I'll ever master Castillian Spanish, but after growing up with Sesame Street and living a large part of my life in South Texas, I still to this day mix many Spanish expressions in my daily speech. That my own Espanol always has a bit of an Arkansas twang to it has been a source of amusement to my bilingual Texas friends -- and myself. I happily accept the fact my dearest Japanese-born (and highly English-fluent) friend will never really be able to correctly pronounce my name comfortably (Meranie Rane); therefore I live fairly comfortable with the knowledge that the correct inflection of Juarez is simply beyond me.

But back to our title? Given enough time, I think I might have been able to noodle out the translation without resorting to Yahoo's translator. I mean, if you know yerba buena is good weed, mala yerba is probably the opposite. And while I had not a clue on nunca, I did know muere probably had something to do with death. So me, 100 monkeys, and 100 typewriters, probably eventually would have stumbled onto the gist.

I hope.

I hear folks grumbling sometimes about having U.S. government liturature published in both Spanish and English, about how anyone living in the States HAS to speak English, even about sooner or later we'll all be speaking Spanish, god forbid. And I've also heard the other side of the argument about Spanish in North America being so "polluted" with English. I just have to smile.

I like Spanglish! And however bad my pronounciation, I'll keep on spicing my talk and my thoughts with melodious words and expressions. Congress just authorized a ridiculous fence from the Rio Grande to Tiajuana without any real funding (too bad, Halliburton). Thank you, Jesus, they didn't specify it was to run from the Big River to Aunt Jane. !Las muy mucha cabronada!

Then again, there is francois, at which I'm totally lost.

So ~~

Au revoir...y'all.


Blogger dada said...

mel: I loved this post. If ever asked, "What's the best job you ever had?" I would answer w/o hesitation it was my work study job while at university.

Of course, the immediate advantage of it was it was only part-time. It consisted of grounds keeping at the university: mowing grass, raking leaves, picking up stadium trash after a Saturday football game. But it was a job you left at work. No taking it home with you and we were a diverse mix of students and "career" grounds keepers.

One of the "permanent party" had a great love for his native tongue, Spanish, and took much joy in word play and double entendre. Several of his phrases still echo in my mind today. "Yo quiero ver gotas" (I want to see drops) when said quickly became "Yo quiero vergotas", two very different things, as he explained to me.

I admired those guys. They harkened me back to those lovable Steinbeckian paisanos of my HS English days. (NOT played by anglos like John Garfield and Spencer Tracy--please spare me!)

But perhaps the most challenging moments they provided me were, if on break as students were changing classes, their observations and overhearable comments on co-eds passing by sometimes made me shrink when I realized their subject co-ed of the moment was someone in my 2:00 art history class.

But it was harmless fun to them and, fortunately, not one of my fellow classmates ever held me responsible for the remarks directed at her by my fellow co-workers.

A couple of years ago my wife had to visit the campus. While outside waiting for her, "Mikey" one of my old co-workers and I once more crossed paths. All middle aged now, he had become "Mike". We hugged and relived a few of those memories from 20 years ago. And my accent from days with the vatos returned immediately.

And Mike was still working the same job. But now he was a supervisor. He had his own truck in which he drives around making sure his charges and their work-study compadres were getting the job done.

Not much into comments on passing co-eds, his daughters now attend university.

And when Mike goes home at night, he leaves his job at work. It's been a good career.
One final comment--has to do with the Tex-Mex group "The Texas Tornadoes". I loved their delightful mix of Eng--Spanish, altho, I'd be a little more proficient with the latter if they'd peppered a little more of it in their music.

5:10 AM  
Blogger meldonna said...

I think sometimes I retain a bit of mispronounciation of Spanish just to get me off the hook for inflection; it keeps one out of trouble around strangers.


I've never had a "best job" me a malcontent, but even the cushiest and/or better paid jobs always had a HUGE burr under my saddleblanket (which would explain in a partial way why I am still looking not only for A Job, but even more important ~~ THE Job).

But I have had a Best Boss; an old tall drink of water called Eddie that ran the Sears Auto Shop in Little Rock when I changed tires for him in my early eighties. Originally from Tupelo, MS, the guy was the epitome of patience. And frankly the last boss I ever had that held out for his people over the company...

He was honest enough to tell me in a job review how much he worried about 'bringin' wimmin into the shop' (I was the second); and he told me straight up "You gals may not be able to turn out as many sets of tires as the boys; but I'll tell you this - when y'all work on a vehicle, I don't have to worry about it coming back done wrong. The boys are a different story."

Given that was 1985, in the Deep South, I felt that was a pretty good sum-up. I already knew 'us gals' cost the shop less money on several issues...hearing that quiet thank you for it was great. And a year later when I put in my notice to move to San Antone, Eddie's response was "you're not gonna leave me to try to train these new boys right, are you?"

That was hard-ass grimey work I did back in the day, but the fact that you could do a job and get recognized for the value you brought to it is something I miss to this day. And he was the last, and only boss I ever had that never reprimanded me. Funny how you can speak your mind in a shop, but if you work in an office supposedly using your mind, doing so gets you in trouble.

Then again, some of the language I employed in a garage might not always be appropriate in the cubicle world!

My best friend, Gina, who still lives down in Texas, teaches me so much to this day about how we are all one world. I got to introduce to her "Milagro Beanfield" years ago, and we would do good if one of us could win a lotto! A person is born into a family; but finding a sister is a joy in this life.

And Gina would share your love of the Tornados; she hails originally from Uvalde herself, and is going home for a while to stay with her mom, who is in ill health. She's got a little bit of money put back to come visit up here maybe next spring, and showing Seattle to Gina will be nothing but a joy for me. I just hope she smuggles me a bluebonnet bloom or two!

Ay, yi yi! Can you tell I'm missing Texas? I'm starting to think you may be right about that dream of New Mexico...

6:30 AM  
Anonymous D.K. Raed said...

(hey, it's just me, D.K., who decided to become an "other" during our recent frightening lightning camping trip) ...

I loved these Spanglish stories, mel & dada! Spending my whole life in the SW (except for 3-yrs in Spokane WA), Spanish feels like home. Don't really speak much (have to search too hard for words & my syntax sucks), but I entiendo mucho mas.

I had a So-Cal experience some yrs ago that may have barely averted an international incident when a friend was down visiting from the NW. As she drove up, some gardeners (who spoke little english) were just finishing up a major re-do of our front yard. As we go in & out to her car to haul in her stuff, they are staring at her & speaking muy rapido. Now, she's a big-boned 5'10" blond nordic goddess & was pregnant to boot, so she was used to attracting attn. As we're finishing lugging in her stash, she innocently asks me "what does PERO mean"? Knowing she must have just heard it from the gardeners & since my little terrier had been accompanying us in & out, I say "Dog". She about flips out, "they were calling me a dog"? She's almost ready to march out & confront rudeness, p.g. belly & all. So I quickly say, "it also means BUT, especially if used before a pause in the conversation". Now, she REALLY flips out, "they're making fun of my BUTT; I'll go kick theirs back to mexico"!! At this point, I'm laughing so hard, I can barely mutter, "nooo, 'but', like 'except' & I'm sure it had nothing to do with your exceptional rear-end". At the end of the day, I gave them all cervezas & tried to explain my friend's glares, but they just got embarrassed. We still laugh about it today & she still harbors suspicion that she was the butt of spanish risas.

And whatever happened to "Esperanto" -- that constructed-from-scratch language that was supposed to provide international comprehension? My theory is English speakers are so hubristic as to think OUR language should be the world's tongue, even tho' our many grammer quirks make it exceedingly difficult. In fact, if WE had to learn English as a 2nd language, I believe most Americans would fail miserably. Then again, Brits tell us we don't even speak english anyway.

mel, how do YOU say JUAREZ? I wasn't aware of an alternate pronunciation. Can you render it phoenetically? dada probably knows best. isn't it Wahr-ESz? with a breathy "w" sound, like when we say "whether"?

ps (sorry to go on so long here) ... having lived 25-yrs in San Diego, I wanted to clarify "Tiajuana" always refers to the river. The city is Tijuana. The river actually invades the US near Imperial Beach as it empties into the Pacific Ocean. So, if they build a fence along the Tiajuana, the land on the south side would sede back to Mexico. Not much, but you know how unpalatable that would be to this regime which jealously guards every dirt clod. ~~ D.K.

1:13 PM  
Blogger meldonna said...

How do *I* say Juarez? Badly, from the evidence presented by my best friend, whose family has carried the name from sometime around the time of the Aztecs. I'd have to write it phonetically as hWARH~ss, and you're supposed to roll that R just a tad. No matter how hard I try, I still miss something in the inflection somewhere, judging from the snickers I ellicit from my patient friend when I try. Which is cool! Considering her ethnic origins, I'd much rather be giggled at than have her experience a long lost cultural memory/burp on me and suddenly show me a vital organ of my own extracted in an imprompto surgical procedure. And I have seen her do it before, too, when confronted with a deserving pendejo, albeit metaphorically. She's good, chica.

Here's a great guide I found in the Seattle Weekly:

sign me la Gabacha de la Noroeste

4:59 AM  
Blogger azgoddess said...

spanglish - i vote for spanglish...for our new language...

we've already butchered english - why not spanish...grin

1:55 PM  
Blogger Donnie McDaniel said...

Wow, and I only have a little French to offer from down here in southern Louisiana.

2:24 PM  
Blogger BBC said...

I don't care what we speak, as long as all people speak the same so we can understand each other better.

7:07 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thought I would just toss some trivia in here... San Francisco used to be called Yerba Buena.

9:34 AM  

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