Kitchen Spanish

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In his book Kitchen Confidential, Anthony Bourdain admonishes any readers who hope to have a career as a chef to learn Spanish. He finds it so imperative that he lists it as the second recommendation after “Be fully committed.”

“Much of the workforce in the industry you are about the enter is Spanish-speaking. The very backbone of the [restaurant] industry, whether you like it or not, is inexpensive Mexican, Dominican, Salvadorian [sic] and Ecuadorian labor – most of whom could cook you under the table without breaking a sweat. If you can’t communicate, develop relationships, understand instructions and pass them along, then you are at a tremendous disadvantage.” – Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential

Bourdain is referencing what is commonly known as “Kitchen Spanish.” To be clear, Kitchen Spanish is not simply a body of culinary terms and phrases. It’s a sort of practical patois used among English-dominant gringos and Spanish-dominant Latinos who both know a little bit of the other’s native language, but it’s also a form of insider slang. From what I can gather, it’s largely composed of dirty words, slurs, and insults, in keeping with the crude and brutal sense of humor characteristic of restaurant kitchens, which Bourdain describes in such colorful and naturalistic detail. (See also the Urban Dictionary definition of Kitchen Spanish, complete with an example.)

In my efforts to do a little anthropological desk research, I perused some threads on Reddit and cheftalk.com where both gringo and Latino cooks debate whether Kitchen Spanish is a necessary evil or a delightful cultural experience, as well as share their capsule lists of the most essential vocabulary for the uninitiated (e.g. this and this). One Reddit user who claims to be originally from Buenos Aires describes Kitchen Spanish as “a combination of English, Spanish, and Mexican cuss words” that can’t be learned in any classroom or with the help of any book.

This is a belief that may not be held by the more mainstream corners of the internet. I found several conversational Spanish primers for managers in the hospitality industry on Amazon. Most of the authors of those books did not seem to have websites or blogs, which was disappointing as I wanted to read what they had to say about Kitchen Spanish. I was, however, able to find more information about Matt Casado, a professor emeritus of Northern Arizona University’s School of Hotel & Restaurant Management. A native of Spain, Casado not only authored a number of books but also apparently took great strides to ensure that graduates had a basic knowledge of Spanish in order to communicate with back-of-the-house staff.

It does seem that there is a clear distinction between “conversational Spanish for hospitality managers” and Kitchen Spanish. For one, in any industry there’s a line separating how management communicates with employees and how employees communicate with one another. Furthermore, let’s just say that the former is a basic ingredient, and the latter is dressed with many creative accoutrements, depending on the kitchen.

Do you have any stories about Kitchen Spanish? Tweet me at @TertuliaTweets.

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Alianza Americas brings a speaking tour to Grand Rapids to discuss jobs on both sides of the border

I came to admire the work of Alianza Americas when they were the recipients of a grant from a foundation where I worked, and I have kept in touch with the organization ever since moving to the Midwest. Headquartered in Chicago, Alianza Americas is a network of immigrant organizations across the U.S. that operates with a transnational approach.

So, naturally I am very excited that their Midwest speaking tour will make a few stops in Michigan later this month. The featured speakers are two workers’ rights activists from Latin America: Rita Marcela Robles Benítez from Fray Matías Center in Chiapas, Mexico and María Luisa Regalada from the Honduran Women’s Collective in San Pedro Sula, Honduras.

The “Good Jobs, Good Neighbors” tour includes two events in Grand Rapids on September 19 and 21, 2017, hosted by local partner organizations. The events are designed to encourage dialogue around questions such as:

What do we mean by good jobs?

What can we – workers, advocates, policy-makers, businesses, and other stakeholders – do to be better neighbors to each other as we share a common struggle?

How can we work together across borders to create opportunities for everyone?

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Hear the work of giants of Latin American literature in their own voice

Remezcla recently posted a curated sample of recordings from the Library of Congress Archive of Hispanic Literature on Tape. The archive allows you to hear some of the giants of Latin American literature reading selections of their own work. How cool is that?

The Remezcla post has 12 selections out of 210 recordings that include the writers of most of the standard Latin American reading list canon (Mistral, Borges, García Márquez…). I recently read Las reputaciones by Colombian author Juan Gabriel Vásquez, the first work of his that I read, so I’m including a link to his recording here.

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Pablo Neruda reading for the AHLOT in 1966 (Prints and Photographs Division, Library of Congress)

New episode of Tertulia podcast – ¿Dónde estamos parados?

The latest episode of Tertulia is a conversation with Leticia Molinero, professional translator and member of the Academia Norteamericana de la Lengua Española. Among other things, we talked about how taking a rigorous approach to analyzing U.S. Spanish and coming up with standardized language can play a role in resolving the communication crisis that our country faces in upholding the rights of Spanish-dominant residents.

Check out the episode here.

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Introducing Tertulia, the podcast

Last year, I started to think (and write) about the need for more institutions and spaces where Spanish speakers can engage practically, culturally, and intellectually with Spanish in the real world. Eventually, I started to develop a podcast in Spanish — and I got a big boost in motivation when Radio Ambulante was picked up by NPR last November!

Today marks the launch of Tertulia, a podcast in Spanish where guests are invited to talk about their cultural, artistic, and professional projects, as well as the daily idiosyncrasies of bilingual and bicultural life in the United States.

It’s available on tertuliapodcast.com (and you can subscribe via iTunes, Android, Stitcher, TuneIn, and RSS).

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The first episode is now available, and in the next several weeks I will release two more pilot episodes. You can read more about who is on the show and what the episodes are about here.

If you like what you hear, please subscribe to the podcast and follow Tertulia on Facebook (@cafecitonoincluido) and Twitter (@TertuliaTweets) so that other people can find out about it.

¡Les deseo una buena tertulia!

Felicidades a Radio Ambulante (y a NPR)

This past weekend NPR announced that it would be promoting and distributing the Radio Ambulante podcast on its platforms starting on November 22 — o sea, ¡en una semana exacta!

Big congrats to the entire Radio Ambulante team. NPR also deserves to be congratulated for making the decision to incorporate Spanish-language programming into their line-up. Radio Ambulante will only be distributed as a podcast and won’t be aired on NPR affiliate radio stations, but the fact that NPR is embracing content in Spanish makes a huge statement.

Over here at Tertulia one of our mantras is that Spanish is a vibrant language for culture here in the U.S., and this is a great example of a national platform recognizing this.

¡Bravo!

Spanish surnames, indigenous languages

In the United States, the Spanish language is often used as an identifying marker for U.S.-born Latinos and Latin American newcomers, whether they speak it or not — because not all Latinos speak Spanish, and I am not just referring to later-generation descendants of Spanish-speaking people.

There are 45 million indigenous people in Latin America, and many more from the 826 distinct indigenous communities have come to the United States after being displaced by violence or environmental degradation and/or seeking the same sort of alternatives and opportunities that many other immigrants do. Although about 60% of indigenous people in Latin America are bilingual (meaning they speak both the dominant language in their country, which is Spanish for the majority of the continent, as well as one or more indigenous languages), 20% speak only the dominant language, and the other 20% speak only indigenous languages (according to recent studies by ECLAC).

Receiving communities across the U.S., including West Michigan, are learning that they can’t assume that all people from Spanish-speaking countries indeed speak Spanish, which challenges the bilingual (English and Spanish only) support structures that are set up to accommodate Latinos with limited English proficiency. Voices of NY reported earlier this year on the case of a Guatemalan man who went missing in Brooklyn and it took his family 8 months to find him because court records had the wrong spelling of his name; the Spanish spoken by the court interpreters offered as little to him in the way of understanding as the English spoken by the court officers.

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Letter from the Dominican Friars of Grand Rapids declaring the Koinania House as a sanctuary for Central Americans. From the Grand Rapids People’s History Project.

Grand Rapids is home to indigenous Guatemalans as well. In 2014 the Grand Rapids People’s History Project published an online series about how faith-based groups in the area created a sanctuary for Central Americans fleeing violence in the 1980s. The first people to arrive in Grand Rapids under the Central American Sanctuary movement were two indigenous families from Guatemala in 1987. The history of this community does not seem to be well documented, from what I can find, but it makes sense that other indigenous people followed their relatives and neighbors to Michigan. In fact, approximately 6,000 people or over one-third of the residents of Cajolá, a Mam Mayan town in Guatemala, have come to the United States — and 1,000 of them have settled in Grand Rapids (according to NACLA).

Indigenous Latin Americans, especially those who don’t speak Spanish, are stigmatized and marginalized by the majority culture in their own countries. When they come here as immigrants, they are frequently invisible as part of the larger Latino community. When I searched several different combinations of the words indigenous, Mam, Guatemalan, Grand Rapids, and West Michigan, I found very little information online. Colleagues who work with Latino organizations in the area are aware, at least anecdotally, of the Mam-speaking community here, and it appears that there are Mam interpreters working in the healthcare and legal settings.

It’s important for those of us who advocate for bilingualism to acknowledge and to continue to expand the space for indigenous Latinos to have their own voice, even if it is not one that speaks Spanish.

[Update: After writing this post, I came across this Latino USA segment about a trilingual Mam interpreter – it’s worth a listen if you are interested in hearing more about this topic from someone much more qualified to speak about it!]