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Tertulia, vol. 5

Hola. This is Barbara. This week I bring you interesting cultural news about the current state of Spanglish, the art of creating a literary alter ego as done by Ricardo Piglia, and the impressive video program Fuerza latina about women’s achievements in Latin America.

Te llamo pa'atras: Spanglish is more than a pop culture phenomenon

"I would say [Spanglish] is the most important linguistic phenomenon in the Hispanic world, in the Spanish-speaking world, and in the English-speaking world.” This is how Latin American & Latino Culture Professor Ilan Stavans from Amherst College in Massachusetts summarises the status quo of Spanglish as a hybrid language.

Spanglish, a portmanteau of the words “Spanish” and “English”, is a blend of grammatical structures and lexical terms from both languages that is mainly spoken by people who speak both languages, at least to a certain degree. Spanglish is often referred to the typical code switching between Spanish and English found in the United States. It can both be considered a variety of Spanish with heavy English influence or vice versa. It does not mean that somebody uses many anglicisms when speaking Spanish. In this sense, Spanglish can rather be compared to the Llanito that is spoken in Gibraltar than to the speak of a certain management class who depends on English to express themselves in business.

The news channel NBCLX spoke with Ilan Stavans and celebrities who speak Spanglish to discuss what the use of Spanglish means for them, their cultural sense of self, and their careers.

Meet Ricardo Emilio Piglia Renzi: a trilogy that was 60 years in the making

It looks like Ilan Stavans is a very relevant scholar for this week’s newsletter. Alas, it might mean that the number of scholars for all things Latin America in the United States is shrinking. However, I have been reading his scholarly output for more than 30 years and believe that he is so much in demand because of his vast knowledge. He has been widening his scope of expertise so that - at least, with respect to the United States - he can be considered a polymath of (Latin American) Cultural Studies. He is one of the interview partners in a podcast that discusses the English translation of Ricardo Piglia’s volumes of Los diarios de Emilio Renzi (The diaries of Emilio Renzi) that were published between 2015-2017:

  1. Los años de formación / Formative Years (2015, 2017)

  2. Los años felices / The Happy Years (2016, 2018)

  3. Un día en la vida / A Day in the Life (2017, 2020)

For the Spanish editions, see here. For the English editions, see here.

Ricardo Piglia (1941-2017) was a famous Argentine writer who spent many years of his life as a professor of Latin American and Spanish literature in the United States. He taught at Harvard and Princeton. I got to know his works through Sabine Giersberg who started her ph.d. in Latin American Literature with me at Mainz University. She translated his major work Respiración artifical (Artificial respiration) into German. He is sometimes considered Borges’ heir, well, at least, by those book marketeers who know that the mainstream knowledge of Latin American authors is still limited.

But back to the podcast which I can recommend despite some audio problems: In this edition of the “Feeling Bookish Podcast” the hosts talk with the translator Robert Croll and Ilan Stavans, here not only in his role as scholar, but also in his role as publisher of Restless Books, a small publishing house that has enabled the English translation of Piglia’s autobiographical Diaries.

To those who have read Ricardo Piglia’s books, Emilio Renzi is not an unfamiliar name. He is a writer and Piglia’s alter ego who appears and reappears in his novels, sometimes airily, sometimes playing a rather prominent role. Where does Renzi come from? That’s simple: His name derives from a game with the author's full name: Ricardo Emilio Piglia Renzi. In this sense, Los diarios de Emilio Renzi take a long view back and recombine Piglia’s diary notes that started in 1957 already with essayistic reflections on life and the arts. If you are interested in learning how well-read and cosmopolitan Piglia was, then the Diaries are a very good read for you. Argentine writer Samantha Schweblin calls the trilogy “the culmination of one of the greatest works of Argentine literature” (as cited on the Restless Books website).

Fuerza Latina - Inspirational Women of Latin America

DW Deutsche Welle has an excellent video series about Inspirational Women from Latin America. Yoani Sánchez from Cuba and Natalia Orozco from Colombia are responsible for this program that shows the essential role of Latin American women to change society and raise their voices to demand their rights. Each week you will find a new portrait about a brave and intelligent woman or an organisation founded by women. Each video lasts for about half an hour and is very suitable for Spanish learners. The program is an impressive proof that we should hear and see about these testimonials every day, not just on International Women’s Day.

Music pick: Patria y vida

If you are interested in Latino music, you may have come across this viral video in the last couple of weeks. The song takes on Fidel Castro’s revolutionary motto “Patria o muerte, venceremos” (Country or Death, we will win”) and transforms this mantra, which you can still see on innumerable murals and posters in Cuba, into the request “Patria y vida” (“Country and Life”). By taking up the Cuban patriotism as represented by José Martí, the so-called “father of Cuban independence”, the musicians openly ask for a political change in Cuba. The song has widely spread because it resumes Cuban daily life very well. Here are some verses from the song performed by rappers Yotuel Romero, Gente de Zona, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Obsorbo y Funky.

Mientras en casa en las cazuelas ya no tienen jama
¿Qué celebramos si la gente anda deprisa?
Cambiando al Che Guevara y a Martí por la divisa

Translation mine: While at home, there’s no food in the casseroles. What is there to celebrate if people leave in a hurry? Exchanging Che Guevara and Martí for hard currency.

The song has even lead to a petulant reaction of Cuba’s president Miguel Díaz-Canel on Twitter (which is probably more directed at the international community than to his own people.) showing his disgust.

That’s about all for this week. Let me know your ideas and remarks about this newsletter. I am happy to include your suggestions and comments.

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The next volume of the newsletter will be published around March 25th.