New language redefines culture for youth, upsets older generation.
Say mariposa to a Cuban grandmother and chances are, she’ll think of a butterfly.
To a teen, it’s slang intended as an insult to a gay person.
Spanish is shifting, especially in Miami, where Cubans have transformed the language into a new one by introducing slang: Dale, broder (Go for it, bro), ¿Que bola acere? (What’s up?), ¡Oye, meng! (Hey, man), ¿Donde está la guagua? (Where is the bus?), and more.
As a result, some teenagers struggle to converse with Spanish-speaking family in their native tongue.
“The first generation has proper Spaniard European Spanish,” said Emma Trelles, a Cuban-American poet.
By contrast, she said, the younger generation has made up words like frisando (freezing) that grandparents don’t relate to.
Some of the change for young Cuban-Americans is being driven by Cuban-American rap artists such as Los Primeros.
In a group interview, the rappers said their Spanish is “more modernized,” mixing in English to create a new language they called “Espanglish.”
The musicians say they use this mixture to create slang that reaches out to the younger generation.
Younger Cuban-Americans even change the language in ways that might upset their grandparents.
“The Spanish has changed a lot because they (teens) speak it very poorly,” Marta Guerra, a Cuban-American grandmother in Miami, said in a Spanish interview. “(Even) people that come from Cuba speak very badly. I can’t understand them.”
“The young people speak English all day and they do not practice the Spanish.”
Trelles said she believes the changing language is not a result of the generation gap.
In many cases, the level of Spanish is shaped by how parents rear their children.
“In some homes the Spanish is better in the newer generation than in the previous,” Trelles said.
“There are so many Spanish speakers plus a constant wave of immigrants coming in, that the Spanish is still strong.”
That’s not always the case. In fact, some Cuban-Americans don’t speak any Spanish.
Jon Rukes, 16, a junior at West Boca High School, is among them and he experiences problems as a result. To communicate with his grandmother, he has to have his mom translate.
That bothers Rukes.
“I think it’s a shame, because we’ll never really be as close as we would be had we shared a common language,” Rukes said.
It’s a shame for kids not to know Spanish, says Barbara “Carina” de la Paz, 18, who recently graduated from the School for Advanced Studies at Miami Dade College.
“The kids could be more cultural by being bilingual,” she said.
De la Paz says that if she had not learned Spanish, she wouldn’t be able to talk to her family.
She describes her own Spanish as “archaic,” because she learned it from her grandmother.
She calls it “grandma Spanish.”
Her parents also forced her to speak Spanish. Once when her dad asked a question in Spanish and de la Paz answered in English, her dad said, “Why did you answer in English? I didn’t ask you in English.”
For Nicole Martinez, 19, Spanish was her first language.
“It’s hard to understand how a Cuban family wouldn’t teach their kids Spanish,” said Martinez, a student at Florida International University. Spanish was encouraged by her family, and when she spoke incorrectly, her grandparents corrected her.
Similarly, grandparents may misunderstand when teens use slang, but that probably won’t stop the language from shifting.
Aunque no le cuadre a los abuelos (Even though grandparents don’t like it) y parezca algo fula, (and feel it’s annoying) a la juventud le parece que todo está en talla (the youth feel there is nothing wrong with it.)