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Border town lingo: a fusion of two neighboring cultures

After contributions from Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco, we’re moving on again in the US. This guest post is contributed by Mariana Ashley, who writes on the topics of online colleges. Mariana welcomes your comments to this post either below or at her email address.


Although often dismissed as backwards and isolated, the Rio Grande Valley is one of the most culturally rich locales in America. The region, which begins at the southernmost tip of the contiguous United States and stretches to just below San Antonio, Texas, stands front and center in the two nations’ increased struggles against border town, drug-fueled gang violence. And the RGV–a place where two cultures have peacefully coexisted, adopting a very particular Tex-Mex dialect–is also where I grew up.

What’s wonderful about El Valle, as it is lovingly called by its diverse denizens, is that it’s a place that encourages linguistic creativity. Although most from the Valley are of Hispanic origin, “pure” Spanish is hardly spoken at all. Even those who did not grow up speaking Spanish at home have appropriated Spanish words and made them their own. For example, a local radio DJ ends his show with the phrase, Te watcho!, meaning “I’ll see ya,” The correctly worded phrase in Spanish would be Te veo or, more commonly, Nos vemos, stemming from the verb ver, to see. In the DJ’s signature closing, watchar is an invented verb borrowed from English.

Linguistic code-switching abounds in Tex-Mex Spanglish. The word pos, a shortened Spanish form of pues almost entirely replaces the English filler word well in English conversations. When it comes to food items, some English words are all but forgotten. For instance, if you ask for a snow cone in the RGV, no one will understand to what you are referring. Ask for a raspa and you’ll be served a sweet (or spicy) cold treat to beat the summer swelter.

This environment of linguistic pluralism in which I grew up gave me a deeper understanding of both languages and both cultures. It also demonstrated to me on a personal level that borders between countries are merely imposed political and physical structures. Borders cannot stop the rejoicing of two languages made one.

Of course, Spanglish is not only found in the Rio Grande Valley, and its variations abound throughout the country as the nation’s Hispanic demographic skyrockets. Interestingly enough, as it was mentioned in an earlier post on this blog, the Texas Republican Party recently established its platform, which, among other measures, endeavors to make “American English” the official language of Texas and the United States. But regardless of political maneuvering, the beautiful cadences of Tex-Mex Spanglish will surely persist, simply because the de facto use of language among its speakers knows nothing of rules or politics.

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Mariana Ashley

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