Book review: Talk Dirty Spanish

May 26, 2008

There are three books that I regularly recommend (in no particular order) to those who wish to sell to or communicate with Hispanics, and Mexicans specifically: Distant Neighbors by Alan Riding, The Labyrinth of Solitude by Octavio Paz, and The Children of Sanchez by Oscar Lewis.  But I now have an addition to the list: Talk Dirty Spanish by Laura Martinez and Alexis Murnier.

Talk Dirty Spanish offers a non-official guide to the slang, lingo and dirty words of the Spanish language. Through sixteen chapters, each one addressing different social and individual situations, the book presents words and phrases with literal and contextual explanations as well as examples of use within the context of a conversation.  For example, the chapter devoted to drinking alcohol includes the phrase “estar hasta las manitas,” which, according to the authors, means to be drunk while the literal translation is “to be up to the little hands.”  The authors then provide the following use of the phrase:  “El portero de la escuela siempre esta hasta las manitas,” with the accompanying translation:  “The doorman of the school is always very drunk.”

Although Talk Dirty Spanish encompasses slang and lingo from most Latin American countries and Spain, the book has a clear Mexican emphasis, and even among the Mexican slang contained in the book, the majority of words and expressions are more common in the Mexico City region.  This is understandable since one of the authors, Laura Martinez, was born and raised in Mexico’s capital.

Talk Dirty Spanish provides a valuable source of information (and entertainment) to both English-language and Spanish-language readers.  For the former, the book provides a guide beyond the textbook to understand not only Latinos’ way of speaking but also idiosyncrasies, and the book can be a couch-side reference book while watching Univision or Telemundo.  For the latter, it gives Latinos pause to appreciate the way we communicate and think.

Regarding my other recommendations, Octavio Paz’s Labyrinth of Solitude is a collection of essays that deconstruct the essence of Mexican society; Distant Neighbors is the view of modern Mexico by a longtime New York Times correspondent based in Mexico City; and The Children of Sanchez is a novel that resulted from a study in which anthropologist Oscar Lewis spent several months living with a low-income family in the Barrio de Tepito, one of Mexico City’s poorest neighborhoods. These three books provide a better understanding of the way Mexicans live and think; Talk Dirty Spanish addresses how they talk.


Playeras Latinas ( Latino T-shirts)

May 26, 2008

Almost a year ago, Macy’s department store introduced the NaCo brand t-shirts to the U.S. market. The t-shirts, with their selection of catchy phrases, slogans and adaptations from Mexican slang, made the brand an instant success within the U.S. Hispanic population, especially among Latinos with Mexican roots.

Phrases like “Ser Naco es Chido” (Being Tacky is cool), Brown is the new White, and Se Habla Español (Spanish Spoken) that mock Latino tackiness garnered great attention from the public and the media, while some Latino-rights advocates considered the phrases racist.  In response, Macy’s pulled the shirts off the racks and issued a public apology.

But the fact is that these t-shirts were originally conceived and designed for the Mexican market, appealing to the Latino sense of humor and capacity to parody themselves. In Mexico, the NaCo t-shirts were perceived as a “cute” trend, adopted mainly by wealthy members of the society.

In Mexico (and Latin America), wearing a garment with a slogan doesn’t mean that the individual endorses or agrees with the statement, especially when these slogans are written in another language. For instance, I have seen Hispanic males and females both in Mexico and in the U.S. wearing garments from the RED Campaign or Walk for Breast Cancer without having a clue of the meaning of the message they were promoting.

Of course, the opposite is true when it comes to wearing sports team-related garments.  Those individuals are acutely aware of the symbolism of the slogans and colors they wear, and they will defend them with pride.

Meanwhile, another brand of Latino-themed t-shirts has entered the U.S. market, but this time the clothing is designed and created in Texas by a company called Siesta Tees.  Siesta Tees offers a line of garments with less “controversial” topics and designs that appeal first- and second-generation U.S Hispanics. Phrases like “ I © abuela” ( I © grandma),  Can you say chula? (cutie) and a couple of designs from their Ojo (eye) Collection, which, according to the company’s Web site:

… was inspired by abuela, tía and that egg they put under the bed. Mexican folklore believes that people who envy or are jealous of babies give them the evil eye, which causes the kiddos to get sick. To rid the little ones of the evil eye you pray over them with the egg and place it under their bed, and poof the little one is rid of the OJO.


Poll: 4 out 10 Mexicans have a family member living in the U.S.

May 6, 2008

A recent study by Mexican pollster Roy Campos from Consulta Mitofsky shows that 39.6 percent of Mexican nationals have a family member living in the United States.

When asked about the possibility of moving to the U.S. if they had the opportunity, 41 percent of the respondents said that they would. The number increases to 49 percent among men and 51 percent among young adults. Nearly half, 44 percent, of the Mexican middle-class said that they are willing to move to the U.S.

When asked about the possibility of immigrating under illegal conditions, 3 out of 10 respondents said that they would do so. Also, 39 percent of young adults, ages 18-29, are willing to immigrate under such conditions.

Results are based on face-to-face interviews with 1,000 Mexican adults, aged 18+, conducted April 24-29, 2008. One can say with 95 percent confidence that the margin of sampling error is +/- 3.1 percentage points.

View the report here (in Spanish)


Hispanic Agencies: Don’t boycott Lorena Ochoa

May 2, 2008

While reading HispanicTips, a comprehensive Hispanic news aggregator run by Tomás Custer, I came across an interesting quote taken from an article published in the LA Times. The quote addresses the reasons why Mexican superstar, golfer Lorena Ochoa, has virtually no sponsorship deals in the United States.

“I had Hispanic agencies telling me that, ‘no, Mexicans like soccer, baseball and boxing,’ ” Hambric (Lorena Ochoa’s agent) said. “But this is a woman who is now the No. 1, best-regarded person in her country.”

To be honest, this troubles me very much, especially because the feedback that Hambric received was coming from so-called “experts in Hispanic Marketing”. To say that Mexicans only like soccer, baseball and boxing, is almost as absurd as saying that Mexicans only eat tacos!

Mexicans, as the rest of the world, enjoy watching all types of sports. For example, basketball (big fans of the NBA), car racing (NASCAR, Formula 1), and there is even a big fan base of the NFL, to the point that there is an official NFL Web site dedicated to the Mexican market (www.NFL.com.mx). Furthermore, the NFL’s American Bowl has been played five times in Mexico City.

Every four years, the Olympic Games draw the attention of Mexican fans in disciplines such as Tae Kwon Do, weightlifting, track and field and even equestrian sports, basically any competition in which a Mexican national has the possibility of winning an Olympic medal.

And, guess what? Mexicans are also big fans of “posh” sports like tennis and golf. In fact, the PGA (golf) and the ATP (tennis) hold international competitions in Mexico every year.

What the “experts” in Hispanic Marketing contacted by Lorena Ochoa’s agent do not understand is that Mexicans tend to admire, almost idolize, successful athletes, no matter what the discipline. A gold medalist, or champion from Mexico, gives all Mexicans a sense of pride, a reason to believe that success as a person and as a country is achievable.

Let me provide you with some examples (Information from Wikipedia):

Raúl Ramírez was a very successful tennis player during the 70s and early 80s. At the height of his career he was ranked as No. 4 player of the world. In singles he won 19 tournaments, including titles at the ATP Masters Series events in Rome (1975) and Monte Carlo (1978). He also won 59 doubles titles, including Wimbledon (1976), the French Open (1975 & ‘77), and at ATP Masters Series events in Cincinnati (1978), Canada (1976, ’77 & ’81), Monte Carlo (1979), Paris (1977), and Rome (1974, ’75, ’76 & ’77). A memorable moment of his career was when he led the Mexican Davis Cup team in a victory against the US team in 1975, which was led by the number one player of the world at the time: Jimmy Connors. This achievement gave Raúl a celebrity status in Mexico.

Ana Gabriela Guevara. Ana had a successful career in track and field, especially in the 400 meters. The highlights of her career are obtaining the silver medal in 400 meters at the 2004 Olympic Games held in Athens and the winning the 2003 World Championship in France. Ana’s achievements made her one of Mexico’s most influential celebrities.

Eduardo Nájera. Eduardo became the second Mexican to play for an NBA team, yet he became the most famous. Off the court, Nájera served in 2001 as the United Nations Drug Control Program Goodwill Ambassador for Sports Against Drugs. Also, in 2004, Najera established the Eduardo Najera Foundation for Latino Achievement, which provides college scholarships for outstanding Latino students facing barriers to their educations.

Clearly, the “professionals” that counseled Hambric (Lorena’s agent) need to do some more research on the audience they are trying to target. Lorena could be a great Hispanic spokesperson for products, services and organizations, ranging from beauty products to health-related services. She is young, she is successful, and she is Latina, what more can we ask for?


Adapting messages: Correct usage of Spanish Language (Part I)

March 3, 2008

Gonzalo Salvador (aka González), a PR colleague, just shared with me a presentation with great advice and insights that should be consider when adapting any English document or message into Spanish.

I. Assumptions to Avoid

A.-Not every person who speaks Spanish is an expert in the Spanish language.

B.-Not all Hispanics are equal. Usage of the Spanish language among U.S. Hispanics depend on different factors such as country of origin, generation, region of residence. Each group has its own vocabulary and its own colloquialisms.

If you are thinking about asking…

Q: What are the differences between Hispanics and Latinos and what is the right word to use?
A: This question could create a long discussion. Just as a reference in the East Coast is more widely used “Hispanics” while in the West Coast is “Latinos.”

Q: Is there a standard Spanish I can use?
A: No. But you can use neutral words and you can use the Real Academia Española (Spanish Royal Academy) dictionary as a reference. Remember to always use language appropriate to you target audience.

II. Common Grammatical Mistakes

A.-Try avoid the use of gerunds (-ando, -endo).
Example: Use “salta” (to jump) instead of “saltando” (jumping).

B.-Use active verbs when possible: Try to avoid the translation of the have + verb form into Spanish. Example: He has jumped (el ha saltado), might sound better as (el salta or el saltó)

C.-Avoid commonly misused words.

Quiz: Are the following translations correct?:

Protester: Protestante
A: Incorrect. It should be “manifestante.” Protestante means protestant (religious denomination)

Facilities: Facilidades
A: Incorrect. It should be “instalaciones.” Facilidades is related to easy.

Aplication: Aplicación
A: Incorrect. It sould be “solicitud.” Aplicación means “to apply towards…” such as to apply force.

Act: Ley
A: Correct. “Acta” in Spanish is a document.

D.-Always try to use alternatives to gender.
i.e. Avoid using she/he (ella, él)

E.-Check for the order of words in a sentence. (Nuevo Carro, Carro Nuevo)

F.-Avoid using too many articles (la, el). (leísmo)
Example: Women’s Health Center as Centro de la Salud de las Mujeres. It is better to use: Centro Médico para Mujeres.
By the way, the comas (,) are always located outside marks. (i.e. “”, not “,”)

To be continued…