This blog explores the history of Phoenix, Arizona and a little bit of Los Angeles and San Francisco, California

Speaking Spanish in Los Angeles, and Phoenix


No, you don't have to speak Spanish to live in Los Angeles, or Phoenix, but it's kinda cool if you do. It introduced me to some way cool people, and helped me understand the history of that area, going back to when the only language spoken there was Spanish. You know, the days of Zorro!

Like most people, I learned a foreign language in High School. I chose Spanish, and took two semesters of it in Minneapolis, where I was born and raised. And really, that should have been the end of my use of it. There may have been Spanish-speaking people in Minneapolis in the '70s, but I don't recall any. My idea, by the way, was to move away from the snow and cold and go live in Mexico. I never did that, I moved to Phoenix.

When I started at ASU I met my first real, honest-to-goodness Spanish-speaking Hispanic person. I'll call him Miguel, because that's his name. He had been born in Mexico and had been in the United States since he was five. He was also the very first person in his family to go to college. To me, it was just some art classes in a building in Tempe. Through his eyes I saw something much more spectacular - El Norte!

Miguel spoke perfect English and the most perfect Spanish that I've ever heard. He may have used a few slang terms, but never, ever "Spanglish" (which is a combination of English and Spanish). He insisted that his children learn both languages correctly, and they could choose to speak to him using either one, but there was no mixing them together. No. No.

If you speak Spanish, you know that I really don't. I've been practicing, off and on, for a long time now, but I really don't get much practice. But the man that I wanted to grow up to be would speak more than one language, so I'm working on it. And I wanted to do it right, to speak like Ricardo Montalbon, or Antonio Banderas. I hate the sound of what I call "Highway Patrol Spanish" - you know, where things are pronounced "Mee-Gwell" or "Tort-iLLa".

I can read Spanish better than I can understand it spoken, because the words on a page are much slower than the spoken word. A lot of people who only speak English have no idea how slurred together spoken words are - such as the English word "Jajeejet?", to which the proper response is "Yes, I have eaten." I was able to do the layout for the Spanish-language brochures at Bank One, where I worked as a Graphic Designer in the '90s, and it surprised a lot of people.

I love learning about history, and it all started for me in Los Angeles, which I started to realize how much history there was. And knowing a bit of Spanish unlocked a lot of historical secrets for me, my favorite being the full name of LA, which I love to say, especially if I'd had too much coffee, or too many beers: El Pueblo de Nuestra Señora, la Reina de los Ángeles. In old books LA is simply called El Pueblo.

If you're interested in learning some Spanish, I encourage you. Wander over to your local community college and take a class. But be careful of the correct etiquette when speaking to someone in public when you want to practice. Just suddenly speaking Spanish to someone can be insulting, so listen first, and then ask politely - "Quiero practicar mi Español" (I want to practice my Spanish). I've been doing it a lot lately, and I want to do more. And remember this trick: to get the sound as correctly as possible: smile. Spanish is a smiling language.

¡Viva Zorro!


Image at the top of this post: Macayo Mexican Food Restaurant in the 1960s, 4001 N. Central, Phoenix, Arizona.

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