ALBUQUERQUE — Something about the languages we speak fascinates me.
Roaming around Latin America as a correspondent for more than a decade, I wrote about Palenquero, a Creole language kept alive by descendants of runaway slaves in northern Colombia; Sranan Tongo, Suriname’s lingua franca; Papiamentu, the vibrant language of Curaçao; and even learned how to say “Mba’éichapa?” — How are you? — in Guaraní, the indigenous language that holds sway in Paraguay.
When I returned to the United States in July, I wondered what it would be like to live in a country where the Spanish language is so politicized that some speakers are facing new hostility. I was puzzled as to why Spanish seemed so threatening in an English-speaking superpower. I asked myself, what does the future hold for Spanish in the United States and around the world?
Absorbed by these questions, I found myself savoring my re-encounter with Spanish as I set out to write about the language of Jorge Luis Borges and Gabriela Mistral and Juan Felipe Herrera. I spent the last six years in Portuguese-speaking Brazil and relish speaking Portuguese every day — my wife and kids are Brazilian — but having the opportunity to speak a lot of Spanish again has provided me with a new glimpse into how languages, and societies, evolve.
I grew up speaking some New Mexican Spanish, but just enough to get by. I was envious of classmates who spoke it superbly. More than anything, though, we spoke Spanglish, the blend of Spanish and English that some south of the border derisively refer to as casteyanqui or argot sajón.
Before I reported from Brazil, I spent five years in Caracas, so the rapid-fire Spanish that now comes out of my mouth somehow sounds more Venezuelan than anything else; it includes a lot of dropped consonants and an array of inventive profanities that caraqueños of many ages comfortably use at the breakfast table.
Sometimes this makes me feel like a bit of a foreigner returning to New Mexico, the state where I grew up. But I quickly realized that I might feel the same way even if I’d never left New Mexico, thanks to the surge in Spanish-speaking immigrants, largely from northern Mexico, who have followed their star here.
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