How do you translate “le traquetea?

Thank heavens that I get an email each time YucaBaby publishes another one of her great posts, else I would have completely forgotten to tell you all about Bilingual in the Boonies, a new blog by Carrie of Los Pollitos Dicen:

My grandmother, Evelina, is the reason her grandchildren speak Spanish.

The ornery old woman — of dense body, worn-out chancletas and heavy perfume – refused to allow my cousins and me to speak English inside the house.

“Afuera, coño! Afuera!’’ Mama would yell. “En mi casa no se habla ingles.’’

When it’s 98 degrees in Miami, you don’t want to get kicked out of the house. Besides, there’s only so much time a kid can spend harassing lizards. (Oh, the things we did to the poor lizards.)

So, while our parents increasingly spoke English to us as we grew, my grandmother stuck by her rule. Not once did she budge. And while she understood English, she refused to speak it. (I bet, though, if Bob Barker had stepped out of the TV screen and into her bedroom, she would have whispered sweet gringo nothings to the Price is Right host, her novio.)

Carrie’s a former journalist who now “hangs full time with her bilingual-in-the-making toddler.” Not an easy thing, to teach Spanish to a child in rural Tenessee. Bilingual in the Boonies is all about Carrie’s adventures to instill her daughter with the Spanish language.

10 thoughts on “How do you translate “<i>le traquetea?</i>“”

  1. Is this attitude really something to celebrate? My grandparents were all of a similar mind in that none ever learned to speak a lick of English. I never understood their recalcitrance. All it did was keep them at a disadvantage when venturing outside Cuban-American circles. Assimilation into a host country’s culture is not a sin.

  2. It is hard for older people to learn new languages. Not impossible — just more difficult. Their attitude is probably no different than that of Germans and Swedes and Yiddish-speaking immigrants 100 years ago. The redeeming value of the story is that, thanks to the grandma’s insistence, the language was preserved in the family.

    There is a very large Indian and (other) Asian community where I live; by any standard, they are assimilated, but they’re not shy about walking around in traditional dress at the malls or on the street. However, I’ve noticed that the older women don’t speak English … the kids and teenagers do, but their grandmas don’t. And it is most obvious at the stores.

    The Bilingual in the Boonies blog is very nice. These are things that many second and third generation Cubans will face.

  3. Anyone that’s taken linguistics courses can tell you that the best time to teach and preserve a language in a person is in a child between 5 and 12 i believe. the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to grasp the subtleties of a different language.

  4. Digitalcubano,

    Beside the fact, as Gigi mentioned, that is harder for older people to learn a second language, in the case of old Cubans that left our country with the dream of return one day, learning it will mean giving up their dreams. Also consider the fact that they came, many of them with families and had to select between go to school at night or get that second job to support the family and send their sons to the university.

    Please, no not criticize those old Cuban only because they didn’t learn English. They had more important priorities back then. They were opening the doors for all of us. Let them be like that; Thinking every “Noche Buena” that the next one will be in our beloved country. Please go here( and read this, it will really help you to understand my point. Also look at the panoramic picture that I posted there. Be there, in front of that view before it is too late is the dream of all of them. No exception.

  5. ***
    Val: Maintaining a second language is what allows me to make a living as an interpreter/translator.

    (Thank you LBJ….)

    I just wish that they would make it mandatory to have qualified interpreters in hospitals instead of using janitors as translators for the LEP patients.

    Despite what many say, we make a difference in the lives of spanish speaking people regardless of where they come from.

  6. I imagine my grandmother in heaven waving her chancleta at the original poster.

    As others have said, I don’t think my abuela was so unusual in her not speaking English. I think we’ve all met older immigrants from all over the world who could not, or would not, learn to speak English fluently. I wish now that I had asked her why she wouldn’t speak it. But let me tell you she did understand it.

    When I was a teen I told a friend on the phone once that “this old woman is driving me crazy.” And my grandmother turned to me and said: “Oye, me no drive jew craz-ee!”

    In any case, muchas gracias Val to you and your readers for your kindness and reception into the world of blogging and blabbing…Carrie

  7. I don’t think Carrie’s abuela was against assimilation or her kids’/grandkids’ learning English; she understood English herself so that already indicates that she wasn’t trying to isolate herself or her family. To me, it seems she just wanted them to remember their heritage in a tangible & useful way. This is different from stubbornly refusing to learn the language of your new home country and expecting everyone & all of society to bend to you.

    A person who is bilingual, trilingual, or heck, octolingual, has a great advantage in a world that’s becoming increasingly connected by technology.

  8. Fl Mom, I actually got the opposite impression: that she “understood” English well enough to know that it wasn’t Spanish and didn’t welcome it in her household. I may be wrong. Regardless, it does touch on the issue of differentiating between the virtues of a bilingual upbringing and resisting any assimilation into the native culture.

    Given the circumstances of the Cold War, Cuban immigrants were given a wide berth in how they planted their roots in this country. Consequently, they assmilated very little and set up their own social enclave in South Florida. The resistance to learn even rudimentary, conversational English was a consequence of that cloistered mentality. I understand the initial rationale: they weren’t planning to be around for very long. However, as 1-2 years dragged on to 5, 10, 20 years, don’t you think it was time to abandon that mentality? I think so.

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