Talk of the Border: Tejano Is a Little Bit of Espanol and Un Poquito De English

By Josh Lemieux Of The | St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO), October 26, 1994 | Go to article overview

Talk of the Border: Tejano Is a Little Bit of Espanol and Un Poquito De English


Josh Lemieux Of The, St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)


It's not strict English. Ni puro espanol.

No, what's spoken here along la frontera is a mixture - sometimes logical, sometimes goofy - of two languages and two cultures.

"Our parents speak English and our grandparents hablan espanol," says "Rock 'n' Roll" James Echavarria, a disc jockey on bilingual radio station KIWW.

Rock 'n' Roll James hits the airwaves with a rapid-fire delivery - and no pauses between English and Spanish:

"KIWW 96, the Valley's choice for hot tejano hits. Rock 'n' Roll James acompanandoles, faltan como veinte y dos minutos para las dos de la tarde. And right now, we've got some more jams . . ."

From Queens to East LA, Miami to Detroit, Houston to Chicago and thousands of places in between, Spanish and English are getting stirred together in the everyday parlance of many among the nation's fast-growing Hispanic population.

And as Rock 'n' Roll James will tell you, it's become a hybrid dialect - and a marketing tool - here on the 2,000-mile U.S.-Mexico border.

"I learned all of this by ear because I never really took Spanish class or anything like that," says the longhaired 27-year-old, who, despite his moniker, plays tejano music - a mixture of Mexican ranchera and polka, with pop, country and Cuban influences thrown in - instead of rock 'n' roll.

"It's sort of slang, tejano slang."

After switching to a 60 percent English, 40 percent Spanish format featuring the popular tejano sound two years ago, KIWW jumped to No. 1 in the Lower Rio Grande Valley and remains one of the top stations.

"We're actually developing a new language," Rock 'n' Roll James says.

He calls it tejano (pronounced tay-HA-noh). Others call it Spanglish, or Tex-Mex. Some English-only advocates might call it a threat.

But unlike supporters of the Parti Quebecois, seeking to create a separatist French-speaking nation in eastern Canada, many Spanish speakers in the United States don't debate which language to speak. Instead, they're mixing them.

Linguists call it "code switching," and they say it's natural when people grow up with two languages.

"It's done unconsciously," says Lucy Garcia Willis, head of the modern language department at the University of Texas at Brownsville. "It gets the point across. Some people will frown on it. But it's a cultural thing. It's probably gaining more and more acceptance."

With proper grammar taking a back seat to convenience, some educators worry that generations of Hispanics are growing up without knowing either language properly.

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