Monthly Archives: September 2021

Pee-ebb-low. Bee-ew-na Veesta. Pronunciation Part 2: Our Readers Say …

Okay, folks. How we say names in the USA that have Spanish origins is a complete mystery to me. I wrote about this on Tuesday with the blog post Salida: Sah-lee-dah or Sah-lye-dah–What’s In a Name? I invited comments and many of you wrote with fine examples of how Spanish is Anglicized to accommodate the misinformed and language deficient in our populace.

Biggest culprit, it seems is Buena Vista, Colorado. Many of you wrote me about how this place is called Bee-ew-nah Vista by locals. Another fine example of Mother Tongue Language Interference (yes, there’s a name for it) Nenolanguageservices.com is Pueblo, Colorado, which’s locals call Pee-ee-blow.

We had a lively discussion. Here is what readers said…

Charlie Dell says …

i always get a tickle out of two streets in Austin, Texas. Manchaca is pronounced Man-shack and Guadalupe, the University of Texas drag, is called Gwad-a-loop.

Nancy Craft says …

Good observations. Also here in Colorado, the city Pueblo is pronounced Pee-ebb-lo or Puey-blo!  Here in Telluride, some pronounce our county San Miguel  “San Ma-gwell. Limon in pronounced Lyman.  

Terri Hamlin says …

Colorado has a town called Bye-ew-nah Vista. (No consistency in mispronunciation)

Sue Korthauer says…

The Americanized version of Buena Vista was specified by Alsina Dearheimer who chose the name for the town, officially selected over other names (easier to say, actually). Some call it Biewnie and others just say BeeVee.

Mary Randall says …

There’s a town in California’s San Joaquin Valley called Sa—lye-dah, too.

Díane Winters says …

As you might imagine, here in California, as in New Mexico, there are too many to count. There’s also another kind of Spanish/English oddity in place names – Spanish names simply accepted now with little understanding of what they actually mean by those who don’t speak Spanish. Two examples.  Alameda de las Pulgas, and rather long road running down the peninsula from San Francisco, means Road (or also grove) of Fleas.  Then there’s El Sobrante, a town or “census designated place” in Contra Costa County.  When land grants were given to Spanish colonials, the once open land was divided up, some of whose boundaries on maps were complicated. Another parcel was labeled el sobrante – “the remainder” – which lives on now as a place name.

Carol Lynn Estes says …

No-GAL-eez, NM just outside of Ruidoso, said Reeah-Dough-suh.

thanks, everyone for reading and adding to the chuckle. We are indeed language impaired.

and Bonnie Tawse adds:

Pueblo is pronounced Pyeeb Low because so many of the first eave of immigrants (who came to work in the steel mill) are of Eastern European and German descent and when in doubt, the pronounce every letter. U is pronounced literally rather than the blended W sound. If you want to really nail it, you say, “Peeyeblow by the reever.” Since Pueblo is on the Arkansas River.

and Deirdre McKee says …

Charlie Dell said what I was going to say about Austin.  But now you can tell the old timers from the newbies by how they pronounce those two streets.  Old timers pronounce it the incorrect way. I’ve been in Austin now over 50 years and pronounce them the incorrect way.

Salida: Sah-lee-dah or Sah-lye-dah–What’s In a Name?

Spanish names are ubiquitous in the western part of the United States of America, especially in the southwest, which was part of New Spain under the Spanish conquest and rule. The region then became part of Mexico in 1821 after the Mexican Revolution. It’s very pronounced here in New Mexico, where the Spanish language is a dominant feature of language and culture. Almost every street in Taos has a Spanish name. This got me to thinking about pronunciation and how language is spoken based on those who dominate and subvert it, intentionally or not. Hanging out in Albuquerque last weekend with my son Jacob, a one-week New Mexico resident, he suggested the topic as a blog post.

During the Civil War there was a mass exodus from the American south to the west. For example, the Territory of Colorado (1861–76) was the predecessor to the state of Colorado. The territory was created on February 28, 1861, formed in response to the secession crisis as well as a massive influx of white immigrants seeking their fortunes during the Colorado Gold Rush.

This brings me to Salida, Colorado, near where my friend Sue summers along the Arkansas River.

Those of you who know Spanish, know that salida means “exit,” in reference to the exit to the Arkansas River Canyon. In Spanish, it is pronounced Sah-lee-dah, but here it is said, Sah-lye-dah. Origins are definitely Spanish. Pronunciation is probably derived from a Southern twang and early settlers who needed to Anglicize (also a form of conquest).

Here in New Mexico, which became a U.S. territory in 1850 but didn’t gain statehood until 1912, we have Madrid, pronounced MAAAH-drid, with the emphasis on the first syllable. A far cry from Mah-DRID, the capital city of Spain. Today, the old miner’s houses there have been restored into tony shops. Madrid is an arts destination.

In Albuquerque (named after Spanish royalty), we have The Bosque, locally pronounced as Boss-key (not Bohs-kay), which is the cottonwood tree-lined parkland flanking the Rio Grande River. Okay, let’s talk about Rio Grande. Grande is locally pronounced to end with a hard D, rather than the correct Rio Gran-day). Strange to me because New Mexico is 48% Hispanic, and 26.5% are Spanish speakers.

What else comes to mind in the translation of place names from Spanish to the English vernacular? Lima, Ohio (pronounced Lye-mah). Peru, Indiana (pronounced PEH-rue, however early settlers called it PEE-ru, which you still hear today). What about Amarillo, Texas? Is it Amar-ill-oh or Amar-ee-yoh?

For U.S. place names of Spanish origin click HERE.

Can you think of a Spanish place name that has been altered to fit Anglo pronunciation? Please send me an email to share your thoughts (the comment section doesn’t work on this blog). norma.schafer@icloud.com

Charlie Dell Says …

Not places per se, Norma, but I always get a tickle out of 2 streets in Austin, TX. Manchaca is pronounced Man-shack. And Guadalupe, the University of Texas drag, is called Guad-a-loop.

Terri Hamlin says…

Colorado also has a town called Buena Vista pronounced locally as byūna vista. It’s even clarified on their website.

Where is the Chili Pepper Capital of the World?

In a nod to Mexican Independence Day today, and in appreciation for all that Mexico has given us, me thinks the answer to this question is MEXICO. However, New Mexico thinks otherwise. It’s newest license plate proclaims this as truth and features big red and green chili peppers next to the identity number of the plate and the slogan: New Mexico, Chili Capital of the World. It’s true, New Mexico was once a part of Mexico and before that New Spain. Spanish and Mexican roots run deep here. So we don’t get confused, the license plate here also says, New Mexico, USA.

The origin of the chili pepper is clear. The indigenous peoples of Mexico had fully domesticated chili peppers far earlier than 1492 and the arrival of Columbus in the Americas. Archaeologists date the origin of chilis back to 5000 BC in the country’s Tehuacán Valley.  The word “chili” can be credited to Nahuatl, an Aztec language from which many modern terms are derived, such as chocolatl and tomatl. The history of chili is a fascinating read.

There are over 60 types of chilis that claim Mexican origins. These include jalapeño, habanero, poblano, Anaheim, and more. These are the names for fresh chilis. Once they are dried, they take on a different identity because the flavor changes. For example, the chilaca chili, rarely used in its fresh form, becomes chili pasilla when dried, a staple of Oaxaca mole sauce. For more about biodiversity and origins, click here. For a varietal explanation, click here and here.

Here in New Mexico, chili pepper history comes much later. By all accounts, seeds were introduced by the Spanish in the late 1500’s to many of the pueblos and by the early 1600’s, became an important cultivar to use in southwest cuisine. Chili, as in the stew that combines spicy chili pepper flavor, meat, onions and tomatoes, traces its origins to Texas and rapidly spread throughout the region. Adaptations in the Midwest added beans and fat. Have you ever been to a chili cook-off?

Now is the season for roasting Hatch Chili in New Mexico.

The Hatch Chili is uniquely New Mexican, first cross-bred in Northern New Mexico in the early 1900’s by a horticulturalist wanting a milder version of jalapeño. It is available in August and September, depending on the weather. This short window of buying and eating opportunity gives it a caché of being rare and has taken on a mystique of desirability. There is a Hatch Chili frenzy here now. In front of the Taos Albertson’s and Smith’s supermarket, on the historic plaza, in the Walmart parking lot, I see outdoor roasters fueled by propane, with serious young men loading and tending the roasting bins. Bags of fresh roasted Hatch Chilis are offered for sale inside. The aroma of smokey chili goodness fills the air, invades naval passages, causes eyes to tear if you get too close.

Does the Hatch Chili make New Mexico the Chili Capital of the World? Not likely. However, I concede, my adopted state is the Hatch Chili Capital of the World, and I salute her for that. Hatch Chili pancakes anyone?

Where to Buy Hatch Chilis fresh and frozen:

Family, Culture, Community and Covid in Mexico and New Mexico: Thoughts

Preface: It’s Labor Day. We depend on labor wherever we live to work the fields, harvest food, wash dishes or cook in restaurants, sew clothes, tend our nursery-school age children and grandchildren, build, repair or clean our homes. Before I learned the word, Huelga from Cesar Chavez when I participated in the California Farm Workers Union demonstrations, I knew from my teacher-father the value and importance of taking a stand to protect basic human rights — a fair wage, health care, education. He was part of the California Federation of Teachers Local #1021 that went out on strike in 1969. He was proud of that. Our mom was scared. There was no income for months.

Now that I’m in New Mexico, I am constantly reviewing the similarities and differences between living here and in Oaxaca. The similarities are startling, especially as it relates to our indigenous First Peoples. This week, The Washington Post published an opinion piece about how the Navajo Nation has suffered during the covid pandemic: Navajo Culture is in Danger. I encourage you to read this. It offers insights into a way of life that is essential to cultural survival.

Here and in rural Oaxaca villages, Native American families live together in multi-generational households, often encompassing four or five generations. They care for each other in close-knit communities where language, values and culture are shared and transmitted. This is an important way cultural survival mechanism.

Living in close community poses huge risks to the vulnerable, especially the aged. We know from history that disease ravaged indigenous peoples with the European conquests, decimating huge swaths of the population. The covid pandemic reiterates how a rapidly spreading airborne disease can bring sickness and death to rural communities. Most hold the attitude that they want little to do with government intervention because of historical mistrust, abuse and discrimination. Lack of access to clean water, health services, education, and economic opportunity shape these attitudes. Poverty and isolation are huge factors.

The Washington Post article addresses how the Navajo Nation, hard-hit by covid early in its cycle, is weathering the disease. Small houses are built adjacent to family dwellings to house grandparents to make sure they stay safe, separated from family but not too far away! The tribe has a successful vaccination campaign and a high percentage of their people are vaccinated now.

What I loved about this article was the effort to keep loved ones safe in auxiliary dwellings, and still keep them close to the family and community. I’m not certain that this is a practice in Oaxaca, where family celebrations and observances are a priority and people gather in large groups despite the on-going threat of the pandemic. Most often, it is the octogenarians who are the keepers of culture.

For those of us traveling soon to Oaxaca, we will need to stay vigilant to maintain safe distance and wear face masks during Day of the Dead celebrations at the end of October. It is very likely that celebrations will not be curtailed much at the cemeteries or in the streets. Traditions are powerful. It is also doubtful that elders will be housed in adjacent small homes for protection there like the Navajo are here.

Footnote: Today begins the 10 days of the Jewish New Year. This is a time to reflect on our place in the world, what we can do to actively “repair the world,” our relationship within it and with others. On Rosh Hashanah (today), the Book of Life is opened and for the next days, we review behavior, intentions, deeds and misdeeds. We use this time in self-reflection to set things right with ourselves and others. On Yom Kippur, the Book of Life is closed and the promises for change we make is “sealed.” This open book period gives us a chance to start fresh and steer a new course. We reconnect with family and friends, renew spirit by being in nature, take action to make change where it is needed.

I have been in New Mexico for almost four months. New beginnings are intentional, spark creativity, and create opportunity. At this moment, I’m grateful to again ask the questions: Who am I? Who do I want to be?