RPM Miami: US Media’s Spanglish Future?

There was a great feature on BBC Mundo yesterday by Eulimar Núñez about a new bilingual show on Telemundo’s sister station mun2 called RPM Miami (BBC story: “El ‘spanglish’ se expande en la televisión hispana de EE.UU.”).

The show is being promoted as the first bilingual program on US television (with apologies to Dora). The characters are constantly switching back and forth between English and Spanish (“Maybe vamos mañana a cantarte ‘Happy Birthday’. Beso, bye.”), and the program is clearly aimed at Latino youth who were born in the US. Mun2 itself, which is operated by Miami-based Telemundo and owned by NBC Universal, was developed for the Latino youth market by putting together a programming schedule that includes sports coverage, lots of music, and a heavy rotation of English-language shows mixed in with its normal Spanish-language programs.

RPM Miami (full episodes available here) is about a young Iraq War veteran named Alejandro who has returned to South Florida after being discharged.

Cuenta la historia de Alejandro, interpretado por el salvadoreño Adrián Bellani, quien regresa de la guerra de Irak para reunirse con su familia en el sur del estado de Florida y encuentra que su padre está desaparecido.

But a lot has changed while he was gone and Alejandro finds himself drawn into the world of underground street racing when he discovers that his father is missing and that his family is struggling financially.

Now I don’t know if this show will be any good, and I haven’t had a chance to watch the first episode yet…but I do know two things. First, my Spanish professor would hate it. As a first generation, old school Colombian immigrant, nothing gets on his nerves as much as Spanglish (“¡No lo entiendo!”). But my perspective is that it’s only natural for languages to mix in countries like the US, and that this is the way new languages are born. As we all know, Spanish itself evolved from Latin and didn’t fall out of the sky as a fully formed human tongue. Second, if the census numbers released this year tell us anything, it’s that we’re going to see more and more bilingual media in this country soon, whether RPM Miami is a ratings hit or not. So, chau chicos. Nos vemos soon, okay?

Los Isleños in Louisiana

I gave a presentation in Spanish class today about the Isleños community in Saint Bernard Parish, and I thought I’d share a little bit of what I told my fellow classmates this morning.

File:DelacroixTrapper1941WolcottA.jpg

Los Isleños are the descendants of Canary Islanders (Canarians) who came to the New World in the 18th century. Many settled in parts of the Caribbean and Venezuela, as well as Mississippi and Texas. They were instrumental in founding San Antonio, for example. But between 1778-1783 about 3,000 hardy Canarians (called “Isleños” or “islanders,” as opposed to “Penisulares,” which are people from the Spanish mainland) made the trek to Louisiana in order to build four colonies for the King of Spain in attempt to secure Spanish territory against possible British incursions into the region. The population grew from there and mostly in Saint Bernard Parish. Amazingly, they were able to maintain many of their cultural traditions, as well as their form of the Spanish language, throughout the next couple hundred years.

Perhaps the most important part of Isleños culture is their music. In particular, los Isleños sing songs called “décimas,” which were originally ten-lines long—hence the name. The singers, of course, are called “decimeros.” Décimas are about Canarian and Isleños history, interesting characters in the community, and the day-to-day working life of the people. The most famous decimero of late was Irván Pérez (he passed away in 2008), a fierce protector and promoter of Isleños history and traditions. (You can hear Pérez singing the décima “El trabajo de Welfare” here, and that’s a picture of him below.)
Every March Saint Bernard Parish throws a Los Isleños Festival that attracts visitors from all over, including quite a few musicians and other attendees from the Canary Islands, as well as other Spanish dignitaries…even the King and Queen of Spain if it is a particularly good year. Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society, along with other Isleños groups, has done a good job maintaining strong bonds between the community in Louisiana and all the other places in the world touched by immigration from the Canary Islands. Though a bit dated, there is interesting documentary about los Isleños called Mosquitos and High Water: El mosco y el agua alta that you can watch for free here. The following is a trailer for the film, and it starts with Irván Pérez again!
Unfortunately, los Isleños have had a rough time of it over the past half decade. First, Hurricane Katrina ruined large portions of Saint Bernard Parish, and many feared that the population was going to have to effectively flee the area. Then, just as things were beginning to look up, the BP oil disaster last year contaminated much of the traditional fishing and hunting grounds of los Isleños. Historically the community has consisted primarily of trappers and fishermen, and they are particularly well known for the skills in hunting and trapping ducks, muskrats, and mink. With all the environmental destruction of the area, however, a lot of young Isleños have left. So, will the Isleños form of the Spanish language and the cultural traditions of the community live on during this new diaspora?

The bookstore with only one book

What kind of statement is made when a bookstore sells only one book. Is it performance art? Is it a joke? Does it mean the end of life as we know it? I’m not sure, but it’s doing swift business.

Ed’s Martian Book is a store located in a small space in NYC’s West Village, and it only carries the book Martian Summer by Andrew Kessler. Kessler also happens to be the store’s owner and proprietor…at least until his lease is up and a coffee shop goes into the location this summer.

The book is about Kessler’s time working in mission control for NASA on its Phoenix expedition—the same one that famously located evidence of water on Mars. But at Ed’s Martian Book you don’t need to look for the title just in the science section, it can also be found in bestsellers, new & notable, staff picks…heck it’s on every shelf and in every display in the store.

Kessler bought 3,000 copies of the book from his publisher in order to stock the store, and he has already sold hundreds of them for the cover price of $27.95. He refers to himself as a “Monobookist,” and I love the way this idea turns the book into a fetish object. It kind of feels like the Kindle just got punk’d.

(photos: Rachel “Cupcake Blogger” K. @ yelp)

Las mujeres de Almodóvar : Chus Lampreave

I was going to start this post off by saying that I’ve been in a real Almodóvar-watching mood recently, but that would be a ridiculous thing to say because I’m always in the mood for watching his films.

More accurately, I’ve been in the mood for rewatching some of my favorite films by him, including Volver, Oscar winner Hable con ella (Talk to Her), and Oscar nominee Mujeres al borde de un ataque de nervios (Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown). And if you haven’t seen any of those, please rush out and do so immediately.

Almodóvar’s films always have a few elements in common: humor, passion, bright colors, Madrid, men who make bad decisions, and women who have to deal with the repercussions of those bad decisions. But it’s not just themes that pop up over and over in his work. Actors also often appear regularly in his productions—he started the careers of Penélope Cruz and Antonio Banderas after all. But one of my favorite character actors who appears in almost every Almodóvar film, including the three I’ve rewatched most recently, is Chus Lampreave.

Lampreave is a veteran Spanish actress whose career dates back to the 1950s, including extensive work in Spanish television, and who usually shows up in an Almodóvar film as some batty landlord or crazed relative. I first saw her in Mujeres al borde 10 years ago; she plays a stubborn Jehovah’s Witness who refuses to lie for the philandering Iván in that movie. I’ve kept a keen eye out for her ever since. And in my opinion, one of her best roles is as tía Paula in Volver.

Lola Dueñas, Penélope Cruz, Yohana Cobo, and Chus Lampreave in "Volver"

Paula is a nutty old aunt to sisters Penélope Cruz and Lola Dueñas (another Almodóvar regular who kills it in everything she does) who lives in a small village in La Mancha—a town whose inhabitants suffer from chronic insanity caused by strong winds. It’s a classic Lampreave role in a Almodóvar picture: old, stubborn woman who is out of her mind. Paula has been talking to the ghost of the sisters’ mother lately. It’s probably just the wind, but of course…you should see the movie yourself! Lampreave’s character isn’t in much of the movie, but for the few scenes she has, she absolutely steals the show. That’s saying a lot when she’s sharing the screen with Penélope Cruz, an actress who garnered an Oscar nomination for her role in the film.

Luchador Last Supper

Chris Parks’ skateboard deck art of Jesus and his apostles shown as luchadores is awesome! And just in time for Easter. (More and better photos here.)

Mis Cositas

A friend of mine who is pursuing an education degree recently told me about MisCositas.com. The site was created by a New York educator named Lori Langer de Ramirez for bilingual teachers and parents in need of extra resources for the classroom or home: workbooks, vocabulary lists, videos, etc. But there are some great things to tool around with on the site for learners of all ages—especially beginning Spanish students—, such as the digital collection of realia (bus tickets, shop receipts, stamps, bank notes, etc.).

Although Spanish is the main target language on the site (I mean it’s called “Mis Cositas”), there are also ESL, French, and Chinese language resources. Of it all, I particularly love the site’s videos, which can be awfully entertaining for even advanced-level language students.

What’s in My Bag?

There are a million and one ways of wasting time on the internet, but I find few as enjoyable and enlightening as watching Amoeba Records’ series “What’s in My Bag?”

(Venezuela’s Los Amigos Invisibles on a recent episode.)

Amoeba is, of course, the infamous California indy music store with locations in Berkley, San Francisco, and Hollywood. Each is gigantic (the SF store is in an old bowling alley) and filled to the gills with CDs, cassettes, records, DVDs, VHS tapes, and even laser discs. The selection is always deep and exotic—anyone could find at least one thing there that they’d like but have never heard before. That even goes for M.I.S.‘s Camilo Lara.

“What’s in My Bag?” is simply someone from Amoeba with a camera grabbing a famous patron and having him or her show off what they’re buying. Baggists include everyone: cartoonist Joe MattElviraElijah WoodDuran Duran, Robb Reiner from Anvil, the Roots’ Questlove, and on and on. I’ve never learned as much about music history and celebrity taste as I have from watching this fabulous series. And speaking of fabulous, here’s Argentina’s Los Fabulosos Cadillacs (¡en español!)…

La Maldita Vecindad y los Hijos del Quinto Patio

Latin Jazz percussionist Poncho Sanchez

Pat Hoed…er, I mean Fantasma from the metal band Brujeria