It is amusing to listen to Anglos (aka non-Hispanic white people) complain about the influx of foreign languages into the United States, especially when they talk about passing laws making English this country's official language.
When asked to give examples of bilingualism run amok, they often single out Spanish as having "taken over," just because some businesses and government officials try to accommodate the 32.8 million Hispanic people now living in the United States.
What's humorous to me as a person of Mexican descent (three of my four grandparents were born in Mexico and came to the United States in the 1920s, all winding up on Chicago's South Side) is that the presence in the United States of both English and Spanish has affected the latter language in ways traditionalists find abhorrent.
Also, only a minuscule number of people in the United States speak only Spanish.
It is true that in cities like Los Angeles and San Antonio, or neighborhoods such as Chicago's Little Village or Calle Ocho in Miami, or Bloque de Oro in Philadelphia, store signs are "escriban en Espanol," merchants and customers speak Spanish freely, and someone who speaks only English may experience difficulty being understood.
But that is the exception.
The 2000 Census showed only one in 12 Spanish-speaking U.S. residents (about 1.5 million people) who cannot speak English, while nearly 14 million of those who say they are Hispanic indicate they only speak English.
Nearly three-fourths of Spanish speakers say they are comfortable in both languages. Fifty-two percent speak English "very well," with an additional 22 percent speaking it "well." Some truly are fluent in both languages, although they tend to be second-generation types who have direct contact with a parent or other relative from the old country.
More common is "Spanglish," a dialect that replaces traditional Spanish words with English-sounding counterparts that increasingly is accepted as legitimate Spanish by those under 30.
For instance, the word "tickets," which in proper Spanish is "boletos," becomes "ticketos," while the verb "to drink" goes from "beber" to "drinquear,"
I've even heard of birth control pills (called "pildoras anticonceptiva" in proper Spanish) referred to as "antibabis," and once heard someone of Cuban descent insist that a Spanish word for an untrustworthy person is "Kennedito."
A survey by the Los Angeles-based Cultural Access Group said 74 percent of Hispanic young people use Spanglish as part of their daily lives, and Ilan Stavans, an Amherst University Latino culture professor, said forms of Spanglish are being used regularly by the Hispanic middle class. (Amherst University was formerly Amherst College.)
"For people who are exposed to two cultures, it is a tool they use to communicate the essence of their lives," Stavans said.
Spanglish even became a punch line in the 2001 movie "Tortilla Soup," when the father played by Hector Elizondo constantly complained to his three adult daughters to "cut the Spanglish" and to choose either "English or Spanish" when they spoke.
This upsets many Spanish academics, some of whom call Spanglish a "de-evolution" or "bastardization" of their language. But Spanglish is the United States' contribution to Spanish, and it could spread.
Stavans noted the same "American" influences that make U.S. pop music, clothes and fast food desirable internationally also are causing Spanglish phrases to turn up among people in places like Mexico City or Bogota.
If influencing the Spanish language isn't enough, what about the nearly 40 percent of Hispanic people -- many of whom come from families who have been in the United States for several generations -- to whom Spanish is a foreign language?
The first Spanish-speaking influx outside of California or Texas came in the 1850s, and picked up following World War I. To try to become a full part of their newly adopted country, many Spanish-speaking immigrants were like their European counterparts in having their children speak primarily English.
My grandparents on my mother's side of the family both spoke fluent English to everyone, including each other. They reverted to Spanish only when my brother Chris, our cousins or I were within earshot, and they wanted to talk about things they did not want us to hear.
I feel just as Mexican as any other person in the United States, even though my Spanish -- which is good enough to stumble my way through books and newspapers written in Spanish, read street and store signs without getting lost and engage in basic conversations -- isn't fluent enough to appease language snobs in Mexico City or Madrid.
So I fail to see the threat to the English language and to the United States, just because some people are trying to reach out to Spanish-speakers, especially since the Spanish actually spoken by many in the United States reminds me of a gag from the 1970s comedy duo of Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong. In "Cheech and Chong's Next Movie," Cheech wrote a song about Mexican immigrants that included the verse, "Mexican Americans love education/So they go to night school, and they take Spanish/and get a "B."
Why's that funny?
When I took one year of Spanish in college to fulfill the requirements toward my B.A. degree in history, all I managed to get was a "C."
(Hispanidad is a weekly column about the culture of Hispanics and Latinos in the United States, written by Greg Tejeda, a third-generation Mexican-American. Suggestions for topics can be made to gtejeda @upi.com.)