Tienes que aprender a decirlos mal para que te entienden

From age 1 (or whenever I started speaking) to age 18 or so, I pronounced my hometown, Hacienda Heights, with a hard H. I like alliteration, and HH fit. When I got to college, I met people who put the accent on Pérez and wouldn’t stand for mispronunciation of their names. I also met friends who had no clue where I lived even though they grew up just 15 miles west.

“Wait, you mean Hacienda Heights?” they’d ask pronouncing hacienda in Spanish.

“Yeah,” I’d say, annoyed that I was being corrected.

“Where is it?” they’d ask, still confused.

“Northeast of Whittier, a bit east of El Monte [Al Montee] south of La Puente [I know the article for puente should be el, but the city planners felt like doing things their own way], 15 minutes west of Pomona,” I’d answer, trying to situate my little unincorporated section of Los Angeles County.

My new friends would look at my blankly, still confused. It didn’t matter if I pronounced the H or not, no one knew where it was at.

Since then, I’ve ditched the alliterative pronunciation except for when I’m around white people or others I doubt understand Spanish. It’s just easier that way.

I guess.

Hat tip: Oso


28 thoughts on “Tienes que aprender a decirlos mal para que te entienden

  1. My all time favorite isn’t really the result of anglicizing words that are in Spanish, it’s more a lack of familiarity, but it was when someone called Van Nuys (rhymes with eyes) as Van Newees (rhymes with Chuys).

  2. If you thought we pronounced things badly, you should hear how the gringos kill all the Spanish named places/things. I was in Arizona one time and the tour guide was explaining what “Mesa’s” where. The tour guide pronounced it “May Sa’s”. It didn’t dawn on me that he was saying “mesa” as in “table”.

    Later on he mentioned a town called “Palo Verde” and he pronounced it “Palow Ver-Dee”. I think there should be a new kind of Spanish for the people in states. We’ve come up with our own words and ways of saying things.

  3. Jeff: hahaha. That happens to me all the time (when white people say a word in Spanish and it takes you like 5 minutes to realize its a word in Spanish because you’ve been scratching your head trying to figure out what language they’re speaking)

  4. here in pr, things work in the opposite direction.. there are a ton of lexical borrowings from english, but if you say the words as they are pronounced in english, you’ll be there all day.

    sometimes it goes a little far, i think.. my university, where a good 98% of the staff is monolingual spanish-speaking, decided it would be great to refer to the upcoming series of high school recruiting visits only in english. in the first staff meeting where i heard it mentioned, i sat there for like ten minutes trying to figure out what the hell was an ‘escultur’. when it finally dawned on me, i laughed audibly.

    (oddly, it bothers the hell out of me to hear english speakers butchering spanish pronunciation, but not vice versa..?)

  5. Edraid,

    You from Lynwood brother? I used to spend alot of time in Lynwood when I was younger (early to mid 90’s). I had some friends that lived at them apartments on State and Long Beach, right across the street from the Mariscos spot. I remember that intersection was becoming a cruising zone. Those were the days. Dukes control that area too.

    My city was recognizable and easy to pronounce. No problem there. Though occasionally it was spelled with an E at the end, but was more the raza way than anything official.

  6. Vero says:

    The one I’ll always love is the grammar school nuns’ anglicization of most Spanish names (Miguel-Michael, Luis-Louis, Antonio-Anthony, Jorge-George)except Jesus. He just couldn’t be gee-zus; had to be hey-soos. I always wished one of them would insist on being called gee-zus.

  7. Out in Cambridge, the majority of people butcher Spanish names. I am forced to Anglicize them because I won’t be understood by the majority of students/faculty/society. Even Spanish speakers butcher it. Not cool.

    Yeah, El Paisa gets packed with cars, especially during Cuaresma.

    @ Edraid: Whereabouts in South Gate do you live? I’m from South Gate (now far from SG because of college).

  8. I grew up in East LA, but for some reason as a teenager I always tried to pronounce La Jolla as “La Jol-la” (with a hard J). One day my mom heard me and asked, “So where did you grow up, anyway?”

    You folks think you have it bad. Try living in Canada where most people think “Jose” is supposed to be pronounced like the “Jose” in Jose and the Pussycats. And they will correct you if you say it any other way.

  9. Cindylu, great post.

    I almost got into a fight with a friend who insisted that a certain town in central Cali was pronounced Pa-SO Ro-BULLS (rhymes with “nobles”). He said it must be the right pronunciation because everyone he knew there pronounced it that way. Needless to say, I told him its pronounced ROBE-LESS buey!

    Vero, that is so true about the Catholic School nuns.

    I have a friend whose name was always butchered in college by the professors at the beginning of each quarter: JEW-ANNE MARTINezzz, JEW-ANNE MARTINezzz, the professor would call out. He finally figured out they were trying to pronounce “Juan Martinez”.

  10. notoriouslig,
    My dad used to work in Van Nuys. I remember the first time I saw Nuys written. I was sooo confused.

    Yeah, Lynwood is a tough one too. I sometimes say that HH is off the 60. That helps too.

    I thought the new Spanish was Spanglish?

    I think if you were from Arizona or the west coast, you would’ve been able to figure that one out. Us west coast Latinos (I used this broadly, ’cause I’m sure folks in Texas, Colorado, New Mexico, Arizona and Nevada can share aren’t much different when it comes to this) grew up around those bad pronunciations.

    Chicana Skies,
    Does this happen in PA? I wouldn’t think it would happen with locations, but what about with peoples’ names or food?

    Nope. I didn’t do that kind of stuff as a teen. I was such a nerd.

    You know, Oso mentioned that same thing. He told me he got really good in Colombia at pronouncing English words with a Spanish accent so that they’d be understood by the Colombianos. I wonder why it doesn’t bother you to hear Spanish speakers butcher English words. I watched a bunch of those videos too. I love the little anecdotes and hearing all the different accents.

    And what is that city? Why are you trying to hide your roots, man?

    Have you ever met a Gee-zus? I haven’t. It’s like the white man named Oscar. I can’t recall too many examples of the anglicizations of names, but I do know that’s common in schools. All my dad’s siblings have anglicized their names informally (Luz = Lucy, John = Juan, Ricardo = Rick, Carlos = Charlie). The odd thing to me was that it was all the Mexican people we knew, both friends and family, who called my dad Charlie. All the white people at his work called him Carlos. I was really confused by that as a kid.

    Diego (and the rest of the South Gate/Lynwood crew),
    Do people have trouble pronouncing your name? Do they say it Dee-ay-go? RE: Southgate… Can I join the crew? My dad and brother used to work in SG. *smile*

    I think my favorite is still San Pee-dro. My friend is from the area and he says even the raza there pronounce it like that.

    Oh, I know there are some city names up north that get badly mispronounced. My favorite is Manteca. I mean, it’s funny enough that the city is named lard, which is probably why people say Man-tee-kuh.

    Wow. I thought you were going to write that the Canadians pronounce José as Ho-zay. Josie? Man… that’s just wrong.

    I thought it was University Heights. I’m glad this made you smile.

    Taco Sam,
    I was simply inspired by the short monologue. I’m glad this post has inspired so many great comments, including yours.

  11. I got into an argument with someone from Modesto about how to pronounce “Manteca”. I pronounce it how it is in Spanish, she does the anglicized form. WTF? And she was BORN in Mexico and won’t say it correctly. The other two mispronounced NorCal cities that really irk me have to be Benicia (pronounced Be-nee-sha) and Vallejo (Va-LAY-jo).

    Don’t get me started on my name… Even in high school some people couldn’t say or spell my name correctly (they would spell it Deago; one of them was in my mariachi!). I always introduce myself in Spanish, especially at Harvard, and people ask me to say it again. I’m forced to say the anglicized version, De-a-go R[no rolling. :'(]en-TE-ria.

    I love saying WIlmington in Spanish. It brings a smile to my face. Maybe because it reminds me of Pick Your Part ads.

  12. Momo says:

    South Gate! Woo-woo! Shi-aow! We once got a letter in the mail from some distant relative’s family friend that was addressed ‘Surgate’… oneword… soor-gah-theh… lol… I still crack up at that one when I think about it.

  13. I just want consistency. If someone is going to pronounce Hacienda Heights without the ‘h’ then I want to hear Los Angeles like Louse Anhayluhs. But you never do.

  14. You know, I don’t think I ever hear people say Spanish words often enough to know. Sad but true.

    But in South Africa, everyone used to say “tortiLa”, like with a hard L instead of a “y” sound, and it used to drive me nuts. You could at least try to say it correctly! But I guess there’s probably not a whole lot of contact with Spanish-speaking folk over there, at least not the kind of proximity we have here.

  15. Diego: The joy you describe in saying “Wilmington” in Spanish is how I feel about saying “Huntington Park” in Spanish. 🙂 I can only say it in Spanish or HP (in English).

    Just like others have mentioned, it doesn’t bother me so much to hear English words and names be spoken in Spanish. I find it endearing. Crazy thing is sometimes I catch myself “lapsing” into saying an English word with a Spanish accent. Does this every happen to anyone!? Especially when you’re around white society, or monolingual English folk, and it’s like, whoops… browness is coming out. 🙂 jeje

  16. CS,
    “La Wilmington!” I love saying all the major South-Central streets in Spanish. Centuri, Mein, Brodgüey, Crencha, Geij… If the Spanish pronunciations were not close to the English ones (Manchester and Slauson are the same), I’d be in such trouble.

    My brownness does come out often here. I slip into Spanish pronunciations of words and get stares. I think the lack of hearing Spanish over on this coast is the reason why I only listen to mariachi/banda/norteño. Actually, it’s not so different from my musical tastes in LA.

  17. Wow, Power Post.

    Most non-pocho’s pronounce SouthGate as ‘Sau-Gay” and Lynwood as ‘Leen-good’. Also, if I lived in Manteca, I think I would Anglicize it too.

    “De Donde eres tu?”
    “Yo vengo de Manteca”

    Just doesn’t sound right. Or maybe translate it completely and tell everyone you live in Lard.

  18. I had a friend from England visiting a few years ago and after he came back from a walk I asked him where he went. He said “I went to Jawans Market” and I was like “where???” and he kept saying “Jawan’s right down the street.” And finally I realized he meant “Juan’s Market.” Ever since, we and everyone else we know started calling it “Jawan’s.” It makes our neighborhood that much more exotic, you know? 😉

  19. Gustavo Arellano says:

    I’m late to this conversation but had to add these two:

    *A couple of years ago, I discovered that a city called Cudahy existed. For more than twenty years, I knew it by the pronunciation used by my parents and Spanish-language radio folks: Carahai.

    *But even better was the story my dad told me about his compa: when he just arrived from Jerez in the 1970s, the man took a look at the sign for State College Boulevard in Anaheim and pronounced it in Spanish as “Estateh Coyeje.”

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