Celebrating Spanglish

Students share stories and poems that move between two languages

Bella Hogan '25 and Michael Jiménez '23 dance together as part of the Spanglish Creative Writing Contest Showcase. The contest featured submissions and performances by Latinx Colby students.
By Abigail Curtis Photography by Michael G. Seamans
May 1, 2023

The audience was rapt as Dominic Bellido ’24 read from his short story about the little brother of a girl who became possessed by a demon on her 16th birthday. 

There was humor, drama, and suspense in the vivid tale, which moved fluidly between Spanish and English.

“I jumped off the chair, and I ran outside and saw my only friend from school, Lucho, coming up the road with his parents. More people were walking behind him,” he read. “Primos y tías, trayendo regalos y cervezas. They walked up the dirt road as Lucho and I ran to play in the jardín. Someone put on music. The sun began to climb down the sky.” 

Bellido, an English major from Wethersfield, Conn., wrote the story for the third annual Spanglish Creative Writing Contest Showcase, held April 21 in Page Commons Room. Since its inception three years ago, the contest has become a showcase for student performance in dance, song, and writing and an important community-building event.

“Our main aim was creating a community, honoring Spanglish as a normal way of translanguaging, or communicating, for bilingual people in the United States,” said Dámaris Mayans, visiting assistant professor of Spanish, who started the contest with Assistant Professor of Spanish Nicolás Ramos Flores. This year, it was organized with the help of Charlie Hankin and Amelia Raboso Mañas, both visiting assistant professors of Spanish. 

Spanglish basics

Spanglish, which has no single definition, is the combination of Spanish and English. It’s spoken commonly in the U.S., which has more than 62 million people of Hispanic and Latino descent. 

After the event, Bellido talked about why the event resonated with him. His parents came to the U.S. from Peru, and he grew up speaking both Spanish and English: one language for home, another for school. 

“I’ve always been forced to choose between English and Spanish, whether it’s in the classroom or when I’m talking with friends, to the point where I never felt really comfortable speaking in either,” he said. “And so an event like this makes me feel, honestly, like a home that I’ve never really had before. And so working in between two languages, I feel like it allows me to express ideas that are not possible in either single language.” 

Michael Jiménez ’23 welcomes people to the Spanglish Creative Writing Contest.
Bella Hogan ’25 and Michael Jiménez ’23 share a graceful dance.

For many people, Spanglish serves as a basis of self-expression and communication. But it’s a form of language that does not have universal acceptance, Mayans said. Some people who place a high value on so-called language purity feel that speaking Spanglish indicates that a person isn’t fluent in either Spanish or English. In other words, it may be a signifier of ignorance or lack of education rather than a unique form of expression. 

“That’s not true,” Mayans said. “I’m a linguist, and to be speaking back and forth English and Spanish you have to be highly skilled in both languages. It’s not a deficit.” 

The importance of being seen

Still, a pervasive, negative belief about Spanglish is one reason why celebrating it in an academic setting was so important. “Spanglish doesn’t mean that your Spanish or English is ‘contaminated’ or not good enough,” Mayans said. “This is very insulting. It’s just very violent to take away something that is so innate as mixing and being creative with your languages and tell the speakers that they’re not good enough.” 

Honoring Spanglish was something the students who came to the showcase could get behind. They enjoyed tacos and Jarritos Mexican sodas before cheering on their friends who danced, rapped, told jokes, and read original poems and stories. 

Victor Garcia ’23 performs an original rap in Spanglish.

Jenifer Zanabriga ’25, an anthropology and art double major from Vale, Ore., said that the evening felt like a way to acknowledge what it means to grow up bilingual. 

“For me, it was an opportunity to recognize all the unique experiences we have,” Zanabriga said. “Some hardships could be similar, but all of our stories are different. And I think it’s important to listen to what everyone has to say. Being seen helps us find community with each other.”

The Spanglish showcase also recognized that language is personal. Students were encouraged to write in the language that felt most natural to them, whether that was mostly Spanish, mostly English, or Spanglish. 

Connecting through stories and poems

When Galilea Luna ’25 sat down to write an essay about her father, it wasn’t hard to decide which language she wanted to use. 

“I’m comfortable in both Spanish and English, but I feel a bit more emotion in Spanish,” said the Latin American studies and Spanish double major from Houston, Texas. 

Galilea Luna ’25 shares a light moment with student hosts Elian Joseph ’26 and Jazmin Zuniga ’24. Luna’s essay won the first prize in the contest’s short-story category.

In Spanish, the words poured out of her, describing how her father, an immigrant from Mexico, expresses his love for her not with fancy words or gestures but with kindness and thoughtful acts. 

“He’s always tired, and very humble, but he always showed love in different ways,” she said. 

He would buy her ice cream when they went to the laundromat—Luna always chose coconut—and gave her papaya when she struggled with her math homework. And when she was the salutatorian of her high school graduating class of 400, he listened as she delivered a speech he couldn’t understand because it was in English. 

“Other dads gave their daughters roses and other flowers. And he didn’t. But what he did give me, when we got home, was more papaya, and then he gave me a little pat on the back,” she said. 

Her essay, which won the first prize in the contest’s short-story category, nearly brought some in the room to tears. And that is something she appreciated. 

“It’s just very nice,” she said, “being able to connect with people that kind of feel like home for me.”