Latinx Voices Unveiled

Language is often considered a unifier, but how uniform is it? On today’s episode we work to acknowledge the diversity of Latinx languages—Spanish, Spanglish, Portuguese, Indigenous Dialects and everything else in between! Listen in on honest conversations about living through systemic acculturation, preserving identity, and being the unofficial translator for your parents (we have all been through it). Featuring a myriad of clips from the Oral History Resource Center, Elsa, Monse, and Laurents reflect on growing up multilingual in a country that prides itself in being a melting pot.

What is Latinx Voices Unveiled?

Preserving and sharing the life stories of Southern Nevada’s Latinx residents are important because these individuals and communities have played a significant role in our region’s history but are underrepresented in our historical record. Today, approximately 29% of Southern Nevada’s residents and more than 25% of UNLV’s student body are Latinx. Many Latinx residents have greatly influenced the progress of our educational system, multiple business sectors, politics, and cultural life in Southern Nevada. By collecting and preserving these oral histories, the UNLV University Libraries ensures that the perspectives of our region's Latinx residents are reflected in our collections so that present and future generations can learn and study more about their achievements, aspirations, and experiences.

This is Clay T. White, director of UNLV's Oral History Research Center. Support for the Latinx Voices Unveiled series is provided by the National Endowment for the Humanities, MGM Resorts International, the Commission for the Las Vegas Centennial, Mark and Mary Ann Haley, NV Energy, and the Culinary Workers Union Local 226.

UNLV's Oral History Research Center presents Latinx Voices Unveiled series. Today's episode is brought to you by the Latinx Voices of Southern Nevada Oral History Project, a UNLV libraries initiative to record the marginalized voices of the Latinx community. This series is produced by the UNLV Rebel Media Group.

Hi everyone, welcome back to our Latinx Voices Unveiled series. My name is Elsa Lopez and today I am joined with Moncera Hernández Lauren Espano Los Benites So, on the agenda today is language. Yes, it is finally time to talk about one of the major identifiers of our Latinx community, language is pivotal to our identities. We explored this topic at length in episode one when we talked about terms like Hispanic and all of the other pan-ethnic identifiers that are around. But language, like most aspects of culture, vary widely and members of our community inhabit different spaces on this, I guess you could call it a spectrum, so to speak. So I wanted to talk a little bit about this. So for example, if we were to think about this, kind of like a spectrum, you have Spanish, you have indigenous dialects, you have Portuguese, but then in between the three, you have a lot of other people that, for example, those who are native speakers, those who are English language learners. So I wanted to extend that question to you guys. You know, when you think about your relationship with language, where does it fall?

To me, language is complicated, and I didn't realize how complicated it was until I got older. There was this, there's a portion of my life I remember where I only spoke Spanish, right? There was a time before I knew English. So when I was growing up, I always thought there's me speaking Spanish and me speaking English. But now that I'm getting older, language is more complicated than that. It's not so black and white of, oh, I'm only speaking Spanish with these people, or I'm only speaking English with these people, but then there's, you know, there's times where you're speaking both. You're speaking Spanglish. I can even go and say, you know, there's times where I'm using my white voice, my proper English. And I think this is something I like to stress with my students when I teach English is that you always get the typical, like, why do I need to know this, mister? Like, why do we need to learn this? Why do I need to practice this? Well, language is how you communicate. And if you don't have a proper handle on this, if you don't know when to switch up your language to fit the audience that you're speaking to, you're just gonna have trouble down the road. So language is very important, it's very vital, it's very complicating, it's very involving.

Yeah, no, I definitely agree with that. So I grew up like code switching all the time, especially like growing up in LA and then moving here, obviously. And so as educators, as you know, educated people here sitting today, we're very good at that. We understand, like Lawrence was saying, when to speak in a certain way. And language to me is important as an identity. But overall, I feel like language can be used not only to communicate but also to educate other people. And so how we treat language, how we speak language, how we use it ultimately determines how we're looked at.

And we've also got that perspective that a lot of people don't have where we are bilingual and it's something that, unlike a lot of people who are kind of thrown into the language, we've sort of, we've grown to kind of like incorporate it in our day to day. But yeah, that's the topic for our first set of clips. We're going to jump into that, which is the experience of being thrown into a second language, and oftentimes without warning. So we're going to hear firstly from Silvia Alvaredo, who is a radio DJ and host, and and here she talks about being on air for a Spanish radio show without knowing enough Spanish.

With La Buena, I always wrote down what I was going to say because I didn't trust my Spanish at all. So I wrote it down and I was so scared because I was like, my accent, you can hear just like that accent that you do not speak it very well Or you don't speak it often. So it's like oh my god. I hope these people don't tear me apart and No, luckily like they were very because very hard to kind of translate your personality on like one station active rock station to a Station that's Mexican music and it's like an older generation So it was kind of challenging, but I think I was able to do it. And I would have a couple of people call and be like, you know, we can hear that you're trying. And you know, oh, my pochita, you're doing great. And so I was like, OK, good.

So I feel like this clip probably resonates a lot with our group here, because it's kind of this thing where none of us are perfect Spanish speakers. But with that being said, was there ever a time where either of you guys felt, I don't know, I guess self-conscious or kind of like Sylvia felt where she said that she felt like, pocha.

So I think that I know Spanish, but I've never had formal long-term practice with it. Yeah, I've taken some college courses here and there, and they mostly focus on grammar, right, not the actual conversing part of it. And so you think you know the language, but then you go, you talk to like native speakers, right? And they kind of criticize you too, right? And I don't know if you guys watch Selena at all, but there's this part where like the dad is telling them like, you have to be more Mexican than Mexicans to be accepted. And you have to be more American than Americans to be accepted. So we live in this threshold where we have to be exemplary examples of what it is to be that identity. When in reality, as you know, Latinos or Latinx people living in the US,

we constitute of both. So I experienced this a lot, especially growing up. And so once I actually started learning English, started mastering, what ended up happening, what happens to a lot of us, we start forgetting our Spanish. We start just communicating in English because at school, and your friends, you know, you don't practice it as much. And so, there was a period in my life where I really almost lost my Spanish. But like in this project, I was very conscious, especially when we did some of the first ones, where it's just in Spanish, you know, and I sat there and I was going to lead this interview, I was very conscious of like trying to remember, am I using usted properly? Did I say this right? And like Sylvia said, some people are very encouraging of it when they're watching you struggle and some people will ridicule you and it's tough. But this Latinx writer, he talked about this of where our community is very willing to jump and help Anglo-Americans when they're speaking Spanish. Like when they see a white person trying to speak Spanish, they're so encouraging like, yes, yes, you almost have it, you almost got it. But when it's us and we're struggling, it's like, well, why don't you got this? Like, aren't you Latino? Like, you should have this already. So our community can be very supportive or it can be very critical of us. And that can be discouraging for someone who's trying their best to communicate with the skills that they have.

So with Sylvia, it was her being an English speaker, primarily English speaker, jumping into, or being thrown into, quote unquote, into a Spanish speaking atmosphere. But now let's talk about the experience of being a Spanish speaker thrown into a primarily English atmosphere. And with that, we're going to go on to our next clip by Victor Chicas, who is a server for the Mandalay Bay, and he's also an active member for the Culinary Union. Here he is talking about his experiences

arriving in the United States and I was hungry. So I wanted to buy something to eat. So I arrived at Burger King. And well, they didn't understand me. I didn't speak English either. So, what I did was just use my fingers like many other children. It was the only communication I had, my first experience in the language and culture in the United States. After that, I said, no, it's not possible that I'm going to have to live like this. I have to learn something, at least to say, I want a hamburger, I want something, at least something. So that was the motivation. How difficult was it to learn another language?

It's difficult because it's new.

But at the same time, that difficulty, one puts it in comparison, it says, in the need.

That is, as a priority. When you put it like that, it puts a little more desire to throw it. you So we just heard from Victor Chicas as he talks about his very first experience having to communicate with English speakers. And then he also speaks a little bit on having to learn and very quickly learn the language

as a means of survival because his story is one of coming to the US. He had to flee the Civil War in El Salvador, so it was there was no time to to stop and to, you know, gently learn the language, a privilege that a lot of us have. But anyways, Victor's experience is again, I think something that a lot of us can relate to, but not as not on a personal level, more like in terms of something that our parents may have experienced. So if you guys are comfortable, I want to talk about, you know, whether, I mean, what methods your parents used. Have they talked to you guys about that? When coming here, how did they grapple with learning a new language?

I know this is something we're gonna talk a little bit later in this episode, but I think once they had kids, they used us, they depended on us to help them communicate and navigate this world. I know my mom, you know, she would kind of get by on the kindness of strangers, of people who knew the language and would see her out in public struggling would help her. But for my parents, I think the main way for them to start learning the language was through work. You know, both my parents have worked in the kitchen, and so that's a place where you have to communicate to get food out right, or you have to do certain tasks, and everything's verbal. People in that spot, I felt, depended a lot on community, making friends who have been here a little bit longer and kind of master the language to help them. I know my mom, as a matter of fact, there's this network that we build, and my mom, a couple weeks ago, actually, was helping a gentleman fill out Documents to get his DMV license. She didn't she didn't know this gentleman He isn't a family friend or anything, but it was kind of a friend of a friend Knew him and the friend didn't have time to take the person down So she asked my mom if she could do it for him and I was like, yeah I'll go and she went there and you know translated everything for him and that's how they get by Yeah, I remember

growing up in LA in a predominantly Latino community, my parents really didn't need to learn English because everything, all the forms were translated into Spanish forms and you can just turn it to the back and everything was in Spanish. And so in LA, I don't think English is as important because so many people speak Spanish, but then when we moved here and my mom started working here, she really had to master English at least enough to get by at work. And so that's also a thing, like, yes, they speak English, but have limited vocabulary because of where they work, because of where they use it. And so my mom understands like your basic English, right? But if you put her in a classroom, I don't think she would be able to keep up because they're going too fast with vocabulary that she doesn't understand.

Well, I guess on the theme of parents, we're going to be hearing from another parent who works closely with the project. She's Natalie's mom, actually. Her name is Josia Rodriguez-Mastines. She works at CCSD with FACES as a family learning advocate. And FACES is an acronym, so F-A-C-E-S. And her experience is very different. She actually studied English at the university in Bogota in Colombia, but even still she did not feel as prepared.

in Colombia, pero cuando llega aquí uno a afrontar la realidad de todo lo que se habla, pues, di, uy, no, yo es que sabía, pero no sé. So we just heard from Josia Rodriguez Martinez. She's talking about having to, again, be thrown into the language despite her having had some experience with it beforehand. And this kind of goes into what we've been talking about.

You know, there's a big difference between knowing a language, having studied a language, and then actually utilizing it. So what's the toughest thing about having to pick up Spanish again or just like continue with Spanish, especially throughout this project?

For me, it's definitely the use of accents. When transcribing, sorry, when transcribing, the interviews that we do and putting those accents and making sure it's the right word with the right accent, like that was challenging

to me. So overall, the grammar was hard.

For me, it's definitely reading. So if I ever had to read something in Spanish, I struggle with it. But also, and this is something that we haven't mentioned yet is coming in contact with all these different dialects of Spanish, right? If you study Spanish here in the States, you're getting taught Spain Spanish, a very formal, very Spanish that isn't going to be used in Latin America. But something that we don't discuss often is that once you cross countries, you have different slang, different words, different customs, and all that shapes the language. When I was working on translating a Spanish transcript into English, and I came across, and I remember I was sitting in this interview, was a gentleman was describing a Colombian dish. And at the time of the interview, I didn't think anything of it, but when I was reading it and he mentioned Cuy, like they ate Cuy, I kept looking at that word in it and I was like, what the heck is a Cuy? Like, I've never heard that. And so I Googled it and I found out it was guinea pigs. So there's, you know, in Colombia, it's common in a certain region to eat guinea pigs.

We've heard a little bit about being thrown into a second language. It can be terrifying, but it's a reality that many children and some very young children have to navigate when they're in school. So that's our next topic. It's going to be about Latinx students and the tracking system, which for those who don't know what tracking is, I will give a quick explanation. So tracking or ability grouping refers to separating students into groups based on ability levels. And those of us who were taught here in CCSD are probably very familiar with this process. It's the whole, were you in the intermediate classes, the regular classes, honors, accelerated, AP, et cetera. And while it is a controversial practice, it can be even more disadvantageous to students of color and especially to English language learners. So with all that being said, we're going to hear from Patricia Vasquez, who is an English professor at the College of Southern Nevada. And here she is talking about being tracked for what I think at the time was called ESL and not ELL. So yeah, being tracked for those two as well as special education. Around what time did you start learning English?

Well, that was very problematic for me. I didn't experience any kind of outright racism growing up, but one of the things that was problematic when I was that age is that because I didn't speak English right away, they tracked me. So by the time I was in third grade, I was more fluent in English. I was English dominant. My mom would speak to me in Spanish, but I would just respond in English. But I had been tracked for special ed. So in third grade, what was happening is instead of receiving any kind of instruction. I was being put with kids that all had all kinds of problems and so they had these, so everybody could do whatever they wanted because there was no lesson. It was kind of like a daycare where you were just like holding, and you just had different things. And I remember that if you could read something or whatever you get like these little ribbons. And so I would just be like, okay, what color ribbon do I want today? You know, and I'd do that. But one of the good things about that was that they had a lot of stuff on Greek myths, and I just couldn't get enough. So I read the Greek myths non-stop during that time, and like, you know, the line of the witch and the war groom and stuff like that. But there was zero instruction. So zero, like, math instruction, how to read, there's just no

instruction at all. It was just free for all. And this stuff makes me really sad. It's outrageous. You know, Patricia, like many others, was completely failed by our system. And tracking, I guess when done right, there are definitely advantages. I mean, I think we're all kind of educators in some sense. We know that individualized learning is important. But issues arise regardless when students in these low achieving classes will inadvertently receive a lower quality of teaching because of the low expectations that come with teaching this kind of class. So it becomes this very self-fulfilling prophecy situation. And it's especially harmful when race comes into play because, you know, we know that minority students are disproportionately placed into these low achievement classes. So firstly, I want to know if either of you have ever been in ELL. And if so, what was that experience like for you?

I was placed in ELL, and for me, it only lasted up, it lasted all of my elementary education, and for me, it was, and it's kind of like Patricia, you know, I was dominant in English, and it was very easy for me to read this, and it felt like such a waste of time. And unfortunately, the problem is that the district, or just the school system in general, hasn't figured out how to handle English language learners. And this is just the newest iteration of them trying to attempt to solve this problem. But unfortunately, there's not enough of us in that system, in those meetings to say, you know, well, this works, this doesn't work. So what we're seeing is this constant failure. And I mean, Patricia's story, like, yes, she wasn't getting instruction, but it was better than what some of other narrators have described. There was one narrator who remembers when she came here to Las Vegas, there was no kind of any instruction. And if you didn't speak the language, oh, well, that's your problem. And so she shared talking about the janitor would literally have classes not even in the classroom. It was in the custodian's closet where he kept his cleaning stuff. He would have six or seven Latino kids, whoever was at the school, and if you wanted to learn English you go talk to the janitor and you go to his, you skip out recess, you skip out lunch and you go learn whatever English language words he's going to teach you. I have a colleague who he was working as a sub while he was trying to get his license, but he was a long term sub and he remembered he was telling me he had this one student who all his teachers brushed off as autistic, that the student was autistic. She wasn't learning well, she never speaks nothing. And he comes along and speaks to her in Spanish, and immediately her eyes lit up, she understood, and she was able to follow along completely. This child was not autistic. She just didn't know the language, and yet all the professionals that she saw kept brushing her off as autistic instead of just bothering to see if she even knew English in the first place.

Yeah, so growing up in LA, it's a little bit different because I remember up to like fourth grade all my teachers were bilingual. And so it was really, really great to like if you had a question and you couldn't express yourself you could have just said it in Spanish and the teacher understood you and then she would teach you like okay you would say X, Y, and Z. So like in fifth grade I started getting like these special tutoring sessions and so what they would do is they would pull me and like two other girls and I didn't realize at the time that they were Latinas and we would relearn the vowel, different vowel sounds for like long vowels that we didn't understand and that's when we were struggling when it came to reading. I remember they would like every day it was like a different spelling of a long vowel sound and then from there it really improved and it didn't last that long. Once we got it, we got it and you know we moved on and so like I actually look forward to that I was like, oh like it makes sense now, right? It's not about like, oh, you know your special ed or your ESL or anything It's like oh we've Tracked you down and we realize that long vowel sounds are your weakness Let's do a little special tutoring section and you can come in We'll go over a sound every day different spelling and then you can go back to class, right? So I feel like because LA is older and has had a Latino community there for longer, they've actually dealt with these problems before we have, and so they've created solutions. And so I've been very fortunate in that sense.

So ELL tutoring for me was, well, first of all, they didn't call it ELL, they just called it tutoring. So I was like, yay, every day I get to go to tutoring. Yeah, that's what they drew to me. I know. But like years later, I'm like, wait a second. But yeah, so it was a lot of reading, a lot of drawing, very encouraging. And it was, I think what helped was that I was able to test out of it. So in Patricia's case, the biggest issue was that no one was, there was just no oversight. And she's in a school where there's going to be a lot of kiddos that are in special ed or ELL that need to be looked after, because, you know, we need to be having, at least in my opinion, and I feel like the opinion of many educators, frequent tests to make sure that the kids are being moved up when necessary. But anyways, I'm getting a little ahead of myself. So, Patricia, along with the three of us, we had to deal with these issues at a younger age. But there are lots of students, yeah, this whole different population who enter the school system when they are older. So they enter ELL or need these resources for ELL once they are older. Helping this demographic comes with different challenges. So we're going to hear from Dr. Emanuel Ortega, who is professor of colonial art history at the university of Illinois, Chicago, and also host of a podcast, Latinos at Lunch. And here he is talking about having to basically teach himself English in order to survive high school.

Moving to the United States, moving to Ciudad Juarez, and moving to El Paso, those lines were not crossed. And I saw the first day, where like, I didn't know where to have lunch. I didn't fit with the Asians, I didn't fit with the blacks, I didn't fit with the whites, I didn't fit with the emos. I was just by myself. So I had to start just hanging out with Juarez crew. Did you speak English? No, not a word. I was in, there was a professor who used to come to, we all got together in La Cuadra in our street, so we paid this professor to teach us English, but his version of teaching English was memorizing full house episodes. Michelle, is that a dollhouse down there? I still remember some of those. Oh my God. And so no, I didn't learn anything. I memorized episodes and scenes, but I did not learn anything. So it wasn't hard in El Paso because they were all Chicano professors. So I would just sit there, just wait for the class to be over, and then I would go to my professor and be like, no entendí ni mal, I didn't understand anything. And they're like, oh no, we talked about this, this, and that, and because elementary education and middle school education in Mexico is like 10 years more advanced than the states, I already learned all of that in math classes, in chemistry classes, in physics, all of that. So it wasn't until I actually came here to UNLV that I started to learn the geometry, for example, that I learned in Juarez when I was in elementary. So it was very easy. So I didn't learn any English during my first two years in El Paso. It wasn't until I went to Silverado High School here in Vegas where they didn't speak English. They didn't speak Spanish, I'm sorry. And that's where I had to just sit there for hours and then go home and translate all of my books. And that's how I learned.

And I know we kind of talked about this a little bit, but I wanna go on about it a little bit more. Since we've all worked with CCSD to some degree, there's a lot to criticize, but have you guys seen any improvements in how ELL students are treated or Latinx kids in general? Have you seen any improvements there?

I wanna say the majority of teachers, they're more willing to work with students, especially those who are Latino and probably went through the same thing. But in general, I think there's more willingness from teachers to be accommodating, to find ways for their students to be able to keep up with their coursework if a language is something that they're not keeping up. There's this idea of if a language is a barrier, then we can modify the assignment for a student so to make it easier. And modifying is great, but at the same time you have to be very careful that you're not modifying it so much that you're taking away from the child's education, making it too easy.

It's a challenge.

Yeah, you wanna make sure it's still a challenge.

Yeah, I feel like when I was working at the school I was working at, because I was one of the only bilingual teachers there, they gave me a lot of liberty to do what I wanted. And so I would modify it and actually my ELL kids were actually from China, so there was a language barrier there too as well. But basically what I would do is, okay, you're going to read the assignment in Chinese, I'm going to put the Google Translate part of it, because according to them, it's really good when it comes to Chinese. And you're going to tell me, like, instead of filling out this worksheet, you're going to tell me what it was and why it's important, right? And so modifying the assignment where like, you're not necessarily making it easier for them, but you're trying to see if they understand the concept of what's going on, what's happening.

Yeah, I'm going to say something that I feel like is a bit controversial. It's controversial advice, because I'm an elementary education major. I have followed the traditional right here. I know Lawrence, you did ARL and once you did another program. So with the traditional route, you have your gen ed classes and then you have like your TESOL classes, TESOL being like how to teach kids who are in ELL. So those classes alone, I can tell you, are not enough. It will teach you empathy and it will teach you strategies and they're very, very good classes. But there's always going to be that language barrier. I was thinking, why don't more people take Spanish? You know, if you're not a native Spanish speaker and you know that CCSD is comprised of like, so, so many Latinx kids and Latinx families, why not, you know, like take some of those classes? Like, I understand it might be really cool to take, you know, your Japanese classes and all that. Definitely take those if you can. But even just on the side, try to take some Spanish classes. Because ultimately, if you're looking to teach here, that's gonna be a major barrier down the road if you don't at some point take the initiative to at least teach yourself some basics. Now, I mean, I'd like to think that at the end of the day, if you're going into teaching, it's because you care about children, about students, so this is all great advice. We were talking about the U.S. education system has been grappling with how to accommodate immigrant children for a very long time. I mean, I know that just ELL classes in general are over a century old. So while we are arguably, like you said, Lawrence, in a better place, you know, we can't forget that there are generations of Latinx people who were severely affected by the old means of forced assimilation. And we're going to be hearing about one of those stories from attorney Eva Garcia Mendoza. She is going to talk about the harmful practices she was subjected to for being a Spanish-speaking kid.

Eva Garcia Mendoza, Attorney for the Spanish-speaking Kid We also, going to school, we were not allowed to speak Spanish. We would get sent to the principal's office and get spanked because it was considered, I guess if you look at it from their perspective, they say, you're here to learn English so we don't want to speak in Spanish but at the same time it made us feel inferior. We need to speak Spanish. There must be something, it's a negative connotation to speak Spanish. So they put all these things on you on how you feel about yourself. And I remember when I got the job at Nevada State Welfare and I had a real good friend and I was always just looking at how are people going to receive me,

because I thought, well, my last name was Garcia, and here I am, brown skin.

Just some background, Attorney Mendoza, she grew up in McAllen, Texas, which, as we know now, they're facing a lot of difficulties with the Latinx population down there at the border, and it's some really bad stuff. But during her time, even then, there was a very, very large Latinx community. You know, she had Latinx teachers. And even still, she was dealing with these different forms of acculturation. You know, obviously, it's really hard learning about these older generations that were very systematically oppressed. You know, it's not fair that their life was so negatively impacted. And I can only imagine that there's a lot of childhood trauma there, you know, being told that you can't speak Spanish. And then on top of that like being like physically hit for speaking a language that you know is is part of of who you are it's your family it's all this stuff that kids they can't process quite at the same level that everyone else can so yeah it's some really scary stuff and Latinos or Latinx people are not the only ones they did the same thing to Native Americans they did the same thing to you know Asian Americans and so it's this common theme that you see in populations of people of color where if you don't assimilate, there's consequences, right? And this goes back to like the 50s and 60s. And so you have an entire older generation that doesn't know their language or refuses to speak their language, or they're already too Americanized that, you know, they've lost

their culture or they're losing their culture in some way because of fear.

I mean, without a doubt, one of those consequences of that is that there's a whole generation of Latinos now who are in their 50s, 60s, 40s and up, who are traumatized by this, that they went through this, their education getting punished. I mean, LA, as much as we've praised it on this episode for being bilingual in the education system, what you went through. You can't also ignore LA was kind of the epicenter of these Latino students walking out of the classrooms, protesting the-

In the 60s.

In the 60s, protesting what they were going through. It's definitely, again, we've come a long way since then, but still there's a lot of room for improvement. Every now and then on the news, you see a teacher who gets called out for telling their students, hey, don't speak Spanish in here. Or there's still, there's teachers out there who still carry that attitude, that you can't speak Spanish. Unfortunately, if you look into who is teaching our community, it's not members of our community. It's, you know, people from the outside. And again, I can't stress this enough, but at this point enough, is that we need more of us to go into education, because that's the only way we can solve this issue. Otherwise, it's just going to keep happening. We're going to keep seeing clips of students getting thrown out of the classroom because they were talking in Spanish and all these issues that still come up, which is 50 plus years after the walkout in LA, we're still dealing with this.

Sometimes it's difficult as well. There are difficulties because being that bridge between English and Spanish, these two languages, it comes with a lot of responsibility and that's going to be the focus of our next topic, so being the translator. Because many of us have had to do it, and sometimes it is unwillingly and purely out of necessity. So we're going to hear firstly from Mary Pulido, who is an executive director of Project 150, which for those of you who don't know is an amazing nonprofit who assists homeless youth in Nevada. In this clip, she talks about becoming the family translator as a young child and being quote-unquote prestada to other neighbors.

I did all the parent conferences for the older and the younger. I did all the doctor's appointments. Anytime anything needed to be translated, I was the one and then I was offered to the neighborhood to do that. I remember the knot in my throat having to translate on things that court-related. related. To this day, I have a fear of going into courtrooms, because I remember being this little kid, being responsible. And to me, it was such a big authority building, that I was more worried, what if I don't translate correctly, and this person goes to jail, I wasn't sure what I was doing, other than you say something, and I translate it or I attempt to. And I was always that kid over the counter at the bank. Well, my mom said this or my dad wants this. And attending parent conferences for my younger siblings that I weren't, you know, much different in the age than I was.

And I really, really like this clip because I think she illustrates well, the anxiety that comes along with having to be a kid in these, you know, adult spaces. And I wanna talk a little bit more about that, you know, having to be the translator, often the times you have to translate are in very formal settings. And a lot of the time, at least in my experience, I didn't even know what the English word meant. Exactly. And you know, how do you translate something that you can't even say or like you can't even understand in English to Spanish. And so I totally understand where she's coming from because I used to do the same thing and it's so funny now It's a running joke parents would say like oh, what is English useful for you?

If you can't even translate this court document, right?

And like I said, it can be funny

It can be but I mean that anxiety that Mellie explains like at the end of the day That is a huge burden to put on a seven-year-old a year like how many people can you know our age? Who aren't Latino can say I was filling out documents for myself since the age of six, seven, right? When I was going to the doctor, I was filling out my like, mom, am I diabetic?

That's so true, because sometimes even like when we have our Spanish narrators, when they fill out the bioform, before we had the Spanish translation one, it was this thing where we had to translate for them there. And sometimes you're right, I would notice like little things in the way they spelled things because they were trying to spell it in English. So I'm really glad that we fixed that whole situation. Some kinks that we had to work out. We've been talking a little bit about how being an amateur translator comes with a fair share of what I call emotional labor. Next, we are going to hear about translating through the perspective of a professional translator. So we have Marita Teresa Givera Rogers. She is an attorney and former court interpreter for Nevada State Courts and here she is talking about the complexity behind translation.

The challenge in the translation is huge. Like I always say, with interpretation, it's a lot easier to interpret. You interpret the ideas, you convey the message, you are transferring an idea. You can use many words to do the same thing and they're okay. When you're doing a translation, it's sort of like written is so much more formal than the interpretation that is sort of like in the oral version of it. So that is very, where the difficulty lays on translation, because there's so many nuances to the words and there are so many words that are false cognates that will give you trouble every time because then you're making up words that don't exist in the other language. So it is a challenge. My first translations in those years when they had to be typed. There's no computers so that anytime you make a mistake you start all over again. Or if you could erase five copies or whatever you would, but if not it's like... So it was... I said I probably made about 50 cents an hour through because of all the time that it takes to really polish. And you do a rough sort of, and then you read it. And the idea is that your interpretation in the other language looks as if it was original in that language because the syntax is different in the English and the Spanish, so you have to rearrange things to make it or they don't look or they don't feel or they don't look natural, you know what I mean.

That clip gives us some great insight as to just how nuanced language is, not just Spanish, but just language in general. And through this project, we've had to do a fair amount of translating and interpreting when we write out the transcripts, and especially when we're editing parts that may sound unclear. So I want to hear from you guys, what are some of the difficulties that you've crossed while working through the project?

Well, so before I jump into that, so like even Maritereza, who was a professional court interpreter. Later on in the interview, I think she mentioned a time where she was, so Merete Reyes is originally from Chile, and she was working a case where the defendant was Cuban. And she talks about how, as she's interpreting what this person is saying, the person said, le di una galleta, like, no, but in the Cuban Spanish, I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish. I don't know how to say it in Spanish.

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I don't know how to say it in Spanish.

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Poison, right? And so even as a professional, language is tough. It's complicated. There's so much nuance to it. Because that is difficult. Going word for word is difficult. I think interpreting is a little bit easier, where you just have to convey the message.

Because there have been a couple of times in that text where I'll be reading, and it's like, I'm not sure what word for word he's saying, But it's like filtered almost, because it's not true to... That's just one of the unfortunate realities. There is such a distinction between translating and between interpreting. When I think of translating, that's the equivalent of typing something into Google Translate and then receiving some gibberish that... I mean, I guess, Montague said in Chinese it might make sense, but I know that when I've used it in French before, it's just like a hot mess. And then interpreting also has some setbacks, you know, you're not going to get the true-to-life experience that the other person is trying to relate to you. So yeah, there's lots of pros and cons for either or. Okay, so we have talked quite a bit on life as a multilingual speaker, and it's a privilege in many respects, because you know nowadays many Latinx people are encouraged and supported through this journey of learning a new language. So yeah we get to reap the benefits of that. And knowing your native language is very precious to people I think because it's one way that we preserve our history. And that is our last topic for today, you know, language as a way to preserve our culture. So next we're going to be hearing from Tony Sanchez who's a utility executive and in this clip he remembers the importance of maintaining his heritage, despite having grown in the era of assimilation.

My dad's family is a very, very Mexican family. I was technically the sixth. Tony Sanchez, I was the sixth. For whatever reason, they went by who was living at the time, so that's why I'm the third. But my dad obviously grew up speaking Spanish in the 60s. I would have been the sixth Antonio Francisco Sanchez. Why does that make me so emotional? That's interesting. So what's the first thing I did? When I had my first son, he became Antonio Francisco Sanchez.

This gets us on the topic of names and the story behind them, how they're very important to our personhood. So when Antonio's become Anthony's or Javier's become Xavier's, you know, it's at best confusing to the person whose name is being changed, but you know, at worst, very offensive. And you know, ethnic names, they're, it's not just in the Latinx community, they're changed all the time. And some would consider it another harmful example of acculturation. So I want to talk a bit about our names. You guys can talk about, you know, why your parents chose it. Have you ever had any, have you ever had to deal with someone trying to Americanize it in any sense?

My whole life.

Okay, go ahead. Yeah.

So like, my full name is Montserrat. So there's a double R in my name which I've never seen another name with a double R so you have to roll your R to even say my name. For the most part I go by Montse, Montserrat just in the formal setting. And so like people throughout my entire life from teachers that speak Spanish too, not just you know, English speakers, they'll always like when they come to my name they like stumble and they don't know like how to even like address it and so like usually what I get is like Hernandez right like who's Hernandez here's like oh that's me right and so like a lot of them like are curious on how to say it and then I'll just say like oh it's Moncelat but I go I'm Monce and then like after several like tries Monce becomes what they call me and so like I've had teachers throughout my life try to change that and Americanize it in some way. I had an English teacher in high school who was like, I'm just going to call you Monce. Monce is already two syllables, but she decided to call me Monce. And so, when I was teaching, when I was a tutor, I would also emphasize me pronouncing the names of my kids correct. And so I remember I had a student who his mom had named him Mateo, and I would call him Mateo. And he's like, you know, you're the only teacher that has ever called me that in my life. And this was a 16 year old boy. And that was the first time a teacher said his name right the first go. And you know, he's like, you're cool, Miz. It's that kind of thing. Like, you don't realize how important it is to hear your name pronounced right until someone does it.

So my relationship with my name is a little bit complicated because I don't, I'm not sure if my parents intended to give me an Americanized name. So because my parents never have called me Lawrence, never in my life have they called me Lawrence. At home I'm Loudon, like where's Loudon at? Like, you know, that's, that's my name at home. But legally, it's Lawrence. So that's just my first name being complicated, right? And then you get into last names, Banuelos Benitez. And I'd always, I remember beginning of the year, roll call, and they get through, and I was new, I was at the top of the list. B is always gonna be on top of the list. B-A is always definitely gonna be in the top of the first two Bs, if not the first B. And so as I'm listening to people, you know, they go, John Adams, you know, John, whatever have you and then they go to, it's me. Like, it's just me, dude. Like as a kid, it was like, you know, I'd be nice about it and I'd be like, it's Lawrence, it's me. But as I got to school, especially in college, I just had no patience for it when professors, you know, started going again, John Adams, blah, blah, blah, blah, Lauren, but it's me. It's me, it's Lauren Svegan and Los Benites. Or like, since my name was so darn long, it'd get cut off. And I can't tell you how many times like I've had teachers go through the list and go, Lauren? Now I stand up for my name. Like, you, Monta. Like, I think we have to keep doing that. We have to stand, our parents chose our names for a reason. And we can joke and, you know, you can say things like, you know, my mom spelt it phonetically or whatever. The other day, your parents have a legitimate reason for naming you what they named you. We have to take pride in our last names again, to Banuelos Benitez. So I even America is Banuelos. For years, Banuelos originally spelled with an N-E-N-E-A. For years, I didn't put the N-E-N-E-A in because one, it was a hassle to explain to people. It's bañuelos, not bañuelos. But on top of that, when you're filling out forms or when you're typing, there is no ñ key. We have to go out of our way to figure out how to put an ñ. And even when you do put the ñ in it, just institutions aren't accommodating for it. They'll, oh, you put the ñ? Well, I have an N, so we're gonna put an N.

Yeah, no, and even with, unfortunately, who the company that prints and binds our books, they don't have a key for the ñ, so all the oral history books that Lawrence's name is on, they don't have the ñ. So even in this project, we couldn't accommodate for your name. And then I have an accent on the A in Hernandez, and I made it an emphasis since I started college to always put that accent because that signifies I'm Latinx or I speak Spanish.

No, right, and I started doing the same thing with the ñ. I started, I was like, all right, after years of just going bañuelos, now I make it a point to put the ñ everywhere. And we have to start doing that.

And learn the codes on the keyboard.

Exactly, we have to learn the codes on the keyboard. And it's important for the Latino community to do it because if we start letting them chip away, it starts with just taking away your ñ, it starts with, you know, Lawrence being spelled with a W, but it leads into no Spanish in the classroom. It leads into weíre not going to teach.

Weíve made it this far. Weíre not regressing.

Right, right. Like, itís these little microaggressions that lead into the big aggressions. And like, you can get comfortable and say well you know what they're teaching ESL well our teachers are bilingual like we don't have to worry about the English. No you have to worry about your English. You have to worry about your accent because that's if you start getting lazy and you start getting comfortable those little aggressions they start chipping away at our foundation and eventually you're gonna find yourself with no culture. Going back

to our original topic our final clips for today I believe is quite the treat because we are going to be learning about some indigenous words in this clip by Hugo Chuc who is a construction worker at Apex and a member of the Culinary Union. He references a conversation he has had with his sons about his ancestry and the indigenous dialects spoken in Guatemala.

me with an Indian.

That's what he told me. My mom is Indian.

My dad is Indian. And we speak Spanish. Thank God. My mom speaks Spanish.

My mom speaks Spanish.

Because they came to the city. But... In... There are remote places in Guatemala that speak only dialect.

What's the dialect called?

in Guatemala that speak only dialect What is the dialect called? There are many dialects but the main ones are K'iche' K'achikel, Chinche' I don't remember the other

5 main ones that speak the tribe

but from there

many dialects derive like the United States has many dialects and they are very well known in a motion But I Told her so well last week was there what the mother I don't remember if it was good afternoon or good morning. I don't remember. How do you say it? I don't know. I don't know. I don't remember.

Or good afternoon. Good morning, mom.

That's it.

Many beautiful things about Guatemala. So we just heard from Ugo Csuk as he shared with me some of the words and I'm not going to try to pronounce the dialect because I would be doing it a disservice. But in this clip, I wanted to talk a little bit about how sometimes we feel, at least with myself, I don't know if you guys feel this way too, this almost like a layer of guilt when you cannot speak the mother language in terms of, you know, it's important for

us to preserve our family history and language is such an important facet of that. So I wanted to know if you two have ever felt the need to like force yourself to speak Spanish because you want to maintain that throughout your family, your lineage. Yes, now that I moved out, I need to practice Spanish more because I don't see my parents every day. Right. important for me to start speaking Spanish even more to myself, reading more obviously, and so conserving that Spanish is very important. You know, Hugo is in a special situation because his family is actually indigenous, but he can't preserve the indigenous language, right? He was talking about how like he's forgetting like simple things like hello or goodbye, right? He gave you the word, but he didn't know which one it was. And so I feel like with Spanish, we're fortunate enough where enough people speak it or and it's, you know, spoken around the world enough where if we lose it, that's on us, right? But, you know, when we talk about indigenous languages, both in Latin America, and here in the US, you know, if we lose it, it's lost forever. Those dialects, those languages are lost forever and they say what, like a language dies every two minutes or something like that? Or like something ridiculous at a high speed because not enough native speakers

are keeping it alive, right? And so-

And through no fault of their own.

Yeah, exactly. It's just through assimilation, through the United States has a big deal to do with it, but like colonization and stuff, right? And so we talked about earlier how they used to have to choose biblical names, like let's not forget the same thing happened in Latin America with the indigenous population, right? They had to choose biblical names from like their native Nahua, their native Maya, their native Inca, and all these different languages they had to choose, right? But now there's enough assimilation in Latin America that you're Latin American, right? You're from whatever country you're from and it's important to hold on to the mother tongue.

No, I've definitely had to be more conscious, especially working on this project of strengthening my Spanish skills and that's come in the forms of either listening to more Spanish music as I'm driving around, which is the easiest thing to do, is to listen to music and make sure I'm actually understanding the lyrics, understanding what Chenta is singing and understanding, you know what's being said. I've tried to watch a couple more Spanish language shows on Netflix. Netflix is really great for that. There's a bunch of Spanish shows on there that you can watch and set the subtitles in Spanish and follow along. But I've always kind of grown up thinking that if I lose my Spanish, that is a very sad day. Because I've had friends who maybe no fault of their own, or they were third, fourth generation Latino, that they lost the Spanish. And they always kind of get, it goes back to our community can be very supportive of outsiders speaking our language but not very supportive of ourselves, of our next generations coming up trying to keep the language alive. Because they look down on it. They look down on you if you're Latino that doesn't speak Spanish.

It goes back to it's on us if we use it, right? Because we're not really practicing, we're not taking it seriously.

Yeah, no, yeah, I know a lot of people who they struggle with their identity and luckily I'm kind of coming to terms with it But yeah, they're discouraged from speaking Spanish because they're so conscious I guess yeah

So consciousness really kills you getting better

It's this whole thing of where like they feel that they have to be as you guys are saying more American than the Americans it's we can all kind of sort of tie back to that too, but um, there is something I wanted to share because I Listening to this clip. I reminded me that my mom she she knows some words in this indigenous dialect called otomi. Otomi is spoken through various parts of Mexico but in Hidalgo they have a community there and I did a little bit of research on it so I found out that it is a tonal language so instead of using intonation to convey emotion it is also used to distinguish words, but I thought what would be cooler would be if I could play some bits that I asked my mom to speak. Yeah, I was like, Mom, you know, I only know one word in Otomi, and it's because it's one that we used to say a lot when we were kids. It's gashou, which means armpit. So she would be like, make sure you wash your gashou, and I'd be like, like okay mom and that's the only one I remember but there's so many um I wasn't gonna bother trying to pronounce them so I was like I asked her to um it's funny because my mom would say like Nawa words like a squiggly yeah squiggly is like you know a hairless dog um in Nawa but it also is slang for children yes right my parents say that one too yeah so it's funny that we grew up with those mixtures of words.

No, there's still traces of our indigenous roots and our language. And I think it's fantastic that your mom still has some of it. Because I know, like, on my mother's side, and this was a conversation I had with her years ago, but I discovered that, like, just going back two, three generations on my mother's side, we're indigenous. We have indigenous roots. But, again, it's a generational thing that like by the time it got down to my mom, it's just completely lost the language. And now there's, I, my mom doesn't know any, I don't know any, but we do have those indigenous roots. So I think keeping things like this are important to preserve these languages.

So I'm going to play. The first clip is her counting from one to 10. She's so happy at the end. I'm so proud of her. And then this next clip, she is saying, um, what is it? Come to eat Elsa. Come eat Elsa. Yeah, she's saying basically come to the table, Elsa, or come eat, Elsa. She knows, I think she surprised herself when she realized she knows how to count from one to 10. She remembers each number. My aunt speaks it so much better. So at some point I wanna talk to her about it a bit more because it's also that thing, Lawrence, where you've mentioned it so many times, we're so critical of one another. And I feel like I only want to encourage my aunt and my mom to speak it when they when they want to because sometimes, like our family members are, are kind of weird about it where they're like, Oh, you guys can speak up and none of us can understand what you're saying. But that's not to say that they shouldn't. But yeah, I thought that was, I thought that was very interesting.

Yeah. And just conserving and not being not being afraid to engage in the language that first of all it was our first For many of us it was our first language and just because we're stronger in English doesn't mean that we can't improve our Spanish One doesn't have to overpower the other one right if anything they can it really helps to know both and know them Well enough that you can easily navigate your way through different spheres because of it.

Just knowing, we were talking about this before, there are some words that cannot be translated into English and so it's just a better way to express ourselves. When I'm trying to talk about something that's very personal, you're right, sometimes it really makes a difference speaking in Spanish, speaking to my mom about it or whomever I'm talking to, and knowing that they understand me on a much deeper level. So yeah guys, is there anything else you guys want to touch on before we close out?

I think it's great. Everything that we talked about, we went from being thrown into English as a second language or English language learning classes to our life experiences interpreting to our parents and how we cope with it now and how we're reclaiming our culture and I feel ultimately that's what this whole movement of reclaiming your culture is. You know, we have to accept who we are and a part of that is the language and language and culture go hand in hand. The only regret about this episode is that we didn't have a Portuguese speaker. Right. I was thinking the same, but for the second language episode, yeah, we should. But if you guys know anyone, please call us and let us know. This was on the perspective of Spanish speakers. When it comes to Latinidad and the Latinx project, Portuguese is just as much, let's just say Brazil is the biggest country, both land-wise and population-wise. So we need to reflect that as well. And other languages across Latin America.

No, I think this episode was great. I think we touched on great topics.


Well, thank you, guys.

Thank you.

Thank you for listening to Latinx Voices Unfilled series. Each episode features smaller parts of larger interviews with community members. These interviews were conducted by research assistants at the Oral History Research Center. To hear these interviews in full, contact UNLV Special Collections and Archives at 702-895-2234. Special thanks to Yoni Kessler for our theme music and to performing musicians Ricardo Arana, Tasos Taltakis, Marshall Peterson, and Spencer Pfeiffer. Audio engineering by Ron George. Production engineering by Kevin Kroll. Marshall Peterson, and Spencer Pfeiffer. Audio engineering by Ron George. Production engineering by Kevin Kroll.

This podcast is a production of KUNV Radio and the UNLV Rebel Media Group.

Transcribed with Cockatoo