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Spanish and the Latino Culture in the US Screen

March 8, 2010 3 Comments »

Spanglish” is the title of the 2005 comedy starring Adam Sandler (John), Tea Leoni (Deborah) and the Spanish actress Paz Vega (playing a Mexican housekeeper, named Flor), in which the characters come to understand each other without words. According to the executive producer of the film, in which an American married couple and a Latino housekeeper are faced with a language barrier, “the word ‘Spanglish’ is a metaphor for the collision of cultures in this house. It’s also a metaphor for the general limitations of language. To some extent, whether or not we speak the same language, we’re always interpreting the behavior of others.” The writer/director notes that “the cultural differences in our heterogeneous society can be profound. But with Flor and John, their similarities are profound.”

This film is unique because the main theme is Spanglish. Yet there are other films and several television series that are incorporating Latino characters and mixing Spanish in the dialogue. Abc guionistas discuss a study by Professor Nieves Jiménez Carra, from the University Pablo de Olavide (UPO) in Seville, Spain, about 5 television series (The West Wing, Friends, Without a Trace, Cane, and Dexter) and 2 movies (Quinceañera and Real Women Have Curves). The researcher analyzes the strategies used by the original writers to include Spanish in the script or characters of Latin American origin, and also discusses the subtitling and dubbing strategies that translators in Spain use to translate these “bilingual” scripts. It says that American writers tend to include English subtitles when the Spanish is spoken in a series or movie if it’s important to the story line. However, subtitles are not included if what the character is saying is not as important. “They prevent the public from knowing what Spanish speaking characters are saying,” says Jiménez Carra. “If there’s a recurrent character who speaks Spanish, as in Cane or Dexter, the character sometimes translates his or her own words. For example, if the character says, “¿Como estás?” it’s sometimes followed by “How are you?”

Maybe the answer is to teach Spanish at an early age … The same thing that happens in the above-mentioned series is even more obvious in children’s programs. PBS Kids, Disney Channel and Nickelodeon focus on acceptance over discrimination, and there are already several bilingual programs that feature Latin American culture.

Bebés Latinos, a site “for Latino parents throughout the world,” comments on all these children’s programs that “teach” Spanish or include characters of Latino origin. Dora the Explorer is a bilingual series that has created a new interest in non-Latino children to learn Spanish while also learning aspects of the Latino culture. For Latino children living outside of Latin America, this is a character with whom they share something in common and to whom they can relate. Another bilingual program is Maya & Miguel, two siblings living in a culturally diverse neighborhood and with friends of many nationalities and races, who focus on being good family and community members. These characters and their relatives, of Mexican origin, use Spanish phrases and individual words translated into English. Dragon Tales tells the story of a 6-year-old girl and her 4-year-old brother, who are friends with four dragons in Dragonland. The program focuses on cultural diversity, emphasizing the Latino culture through games, songs and stories of Latin America. For smaller children Jay Jay the Jet Plane, which is about a 6 years old plane and his adventures with his plane friends, highlights teamwork, responsibility and cooperation. New episodes feature a red Latino plane named Lina who helps Jay Jay discover how airplanes fly and the five senses. Handy Manny features the adventures of Manny (Manuel García), a billingual Latino handyman always willing to help his neighbors and friends, who fixes everything in his town. Manny’s friends are his talking tools, and all use individual Spanish words and phrases (in the Latin American version, greetings and numbers and other simple phrases in English are incorporated, usually followed by a translation). It teaches the importance of cooperation, problem solving, teamwork and multiculturalism. The program makes reference to Latino customs and traditions and the opening has Latin music (the title song is performed by the band Los Lobos).

Surely there will be more integration and less discrimination, more knowledge of “other cultures” with these programs, but I wonder what these children speak when they are older, a mixture of Spanish and English (the familiar Spanglish)? Will these programs teach children to speak both languages well when they’re older? The other possibility … I’ll keep it to myself.

Source: Idioma español y cultura latina en la pantalla de EE. UU.

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3 Responses to “Spanish and the Latino Culture in the US Screen”

  • Commented on March 10, 2010 at 9:58 pm

    Spanish is such an important language to learn if you live in the U.S. My kids are Asian and they are learning Spanish. I blog on some strategies we use to introduce Spanish at home despite not speaking much myself

    See http://pragmaticmom.com

    See Gray navigation bar and entry: Foreign Languages

    The earlier the better!

    Pragmatic Mom

  • Commented on March 10, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    Spanish is such an important language to learn if you live in the U.S. My kids are Asian and they are learning Spanish. I blog on some strategies we use to introduce Spanish at home despite not speaking much myself

    See http://pragmaticmom.com

    See Gray navigation bar and entry: Foreign Languages

    The earlier the better!

    Pragmatic Mom

  • Commented on May 28, 2010 at 11:39 am

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