School-Taught Spanish Leaves Out Regional Flavor

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

Commentator Ana Hebra Flaster was born in Cuba and grew up in the United States. Her parents made sure she continued to speak Spanish and her own children are learning a generic Spanish in school. But she wants them to speak Cuban Spanish, with its colorful phrases she learned from her family.


Commentator Ana Hebra Flaster was born in Cuba and grew up mostly in the U.S. Her parents worked hard to make sure that she continued to speak Spanish no matter where she lived. With her own children, though, just speaking Spanish isn't enough.


Growing up in New Hampshire I moaned every time my parents stopped me in mid-English to demand en Espanol. I'd wondered why these nice people insisted on torturing us with a language that apparently no one outside our family understood. So I rewound my story and stammered out the Spanish version, going (makes noise) in frustration. My father hated the sound and would warn, (Spanish spoken), don't fry eggs at me young lady. Even in my frustration, I had to admire the precise connection between my struggle and that poor frying egg going (makes noise) in hot oil. That was the thing about Spanish, Cuban Spanish anyway.

I always stopped to marvel at the pictures it left in my head. I used my best Cuban Spanish to support my case after brawling with my sibling or cousins. Cuban kids never say things like, my cousin Alberto hit me. We give specifics, (Spanish spoken), Alberto hit the back of my neck with his open hand. Or (Spanish spoken), a hard rap on the top the head with the tips of the index, middle and ring fingers all at once. If Alberto dragged his knuckles back and forth over the top of my head, the dreaded (Spanish spoken), I could name, names.

Cuban must have 20 words for raps on the head. I'm not sure what that signifies. But in the barrio, it pays to be accurate. Now that I'm a mother, I torture my own kids with the same old battle cry, en Espanol. They fry eggs at me, we argue, there are misunderstandings. When I tell my son to put the plate in the sink, sometimes I find it in the refrigerator.

I get tired of the struggle, but I'm raising my in the Boston suburbs where there just aren't that many Cubans. My cousins in Miami and North Bergen have all those grocers and pharmacists, the old women in the neighborhood who help them keep Cuban Spanish going. My kids are learning regular Spanish in school, the scrubbed clean Spanish that works as well in Mexico City as in Madrid. I want them to speak the more elusive brand that produces beauties like (Spanish spoken), it flings the mango, what Cubans say when something is unbelievable. Or (Spanish spoken), a fight where you swing at anyone who didn't swing at you first.

Cuban Spanish connects them with a long line of people who knew how to grab a language by the (Spanish spoken) until it spit out the perfect word. I don't want to be the end of that line, the place where the chain breaks. But sometimes I hear my own mother slipping into English when she speaks with my kids. I get mad, but she just shrugs and says, (Spanish spoken), which means essentially, that we often end up eating our own words. As long as my kids find a way to savor some of theirs in Cuban Spanish, I'll have to be content. After all, (Spanish spoken), to a bad time a good face, words that Cubans everywhere must live by.

(Soundbite of music)

BLOCK: Ana Hebra Flaster lives in Lexington, Massachusetts

Copyright © 2006 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.