Life out here - A viewpoint by Bret Kofford: Como se your llama?

April 18, 2001

The young reporter across the newsroom is facing a dilemma.

He doesn't speak much Spanish and the woman he is interviewing over the telephone doesn't speak much English.

Showing remarkable ingenuity, he starts speaking to the woman in English, but doing so with a bad, if pronounced, Spanish accent.

With that kind of fertile mind, this highly regarded young talent will go a long way at the Imperial Valley Press, a place where, like most places in the Imperial Valley, some people speak English, some speak Spanish, some speak a lot of both and some speak a little of one and all of the other.

Many people here claim to speak "no English" or "no Spanish," but the truth is you cannot survive long in the Valley if you don't know at least a little of the "other" language. Life is tough in the Valley if you don't know what "fiesta" or "carne" or "pollo" or "stop" or "no parking" or "sorry we are having technical difficulties; your cable service will return in a few moments" mean.


We had a longtime employee here who claimed to not speak any Spanish, although the native of the wilds of northern New England enjoyed the border lifestyle and did, out of Imperial Valley necessity, take some shots at Spanish words at times albeit with remnants of his New England accent.

Once he told me that he and some friends were going to do some things and then "all get together and have Connie Asada."

"Sounds like fun," I said. "But do you think her husband will mind?"

He did not understand what I was talking about, which regularly was the case. The same goes with my Spanish. I speak pretty well, although people often don't understand it anywhere near as well as I think they should.

Spanglish, though, I speak beautifully, as do many in the Valley.

Nowhere will you hear Spanglish more than San Diego State University-Imperial Valley campus in Calexico, where many people speak both languages fluently, so they just mix and match, using whatever word is more convenient at the moment. At SDSU-IV you can often hear conversations linguistically like this:

"Y el dice to me, no necesita parquear so close to my carro, lady, porque we're going to chocar when you try to pull out," one woman will say.

Her friend responds, "Y what did you say to este sangron, mija?"

The first woman will reply, "I said I was here primero, y usted need to move or I'm going to bust you in the chops with a gancho cuando you golpeé my carro, buster."

The mix of languages comes into play in our newspaper office on a daily basis, although it was a native English speaker who years ago was calling people and asking if they wanted a "prescription" to the newspaper. While it was none of my business, after several days of hearing her illegally offering prescriptions over the phone, I gently explained to her the word was "subscription," as in subscribe. She was a sweet lady and seemed receptive to my help.

The next day I heard her doing her new phone pitch.

"Would you like to proscribe to the newspaper?" she asked.

I let it go.

The other day a woman called the newspaper and said she didn't speak English but had a big problem. She asked if I spoke Spanish. I have learned if I say a simple "si," people start speeding away at 100 mph, so I defensively said, "un poquito solamente."

The caller started telling me there was a swarm of Africanized bees at her house, it was a dangerous situation and she wanted to know what agency she could call to deal with the mess. All of this was said in Spanish.

I answered her in Spanish until I came to the vexing phrase, "county Agricultural Commissioner's Office Vector Control." Thinking it through and using all my Spanish skills, I said, "Usted necesita llamar el county Agricultural Commissioner's Office Vector Control."

She then responded in nearly perfect, almost accent-free English, "And the number for that office is?…"

I soon realized had the whole conversation just been conducted in Spanish-accented English, as our fine young reporter had just done, we could have been done with our conversation faster and gotten to counseling our close but apparently promiscuous mutual friend Connie Asada much sooner.

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