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The Lengua That Won’t Be Tamed

by Gabino Iglesias

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For a people who are neither Spanish nor live in a country in which Spanish is the first language; for a people who live in a country in which English is the reigning tongue but who are not Anglo; for a people who cannot entirely identify as either standard (formal, Castilian) Spanish nor standard English, what recourse is left to them but to create their own language?”

–Gloria Anzaldúa, “How to Tame a Wild Tongue”

When Zero Saints, my third book, came out, I was not prepared for the reception it got. The buzz had been great and Broken River Books is at the forefront of bizarre crime-tinged fiction, but I was coming into the release fully aware of how hard it is for an indie book to break out of the friends-family-genre/press fanatics realm and start selling to people who don’t belong to those groups. Luckily for me, the book did just that. Thanks to a steady stream of very positive reviews and appearances in a few best of 2015 lists, Zero Saints broke out of the usual circles and was even optioned for film soon after its release.

Then the negative comments and reactions started putting some cracks on the experience.

It started at work. People would approach me and tell me they’d heard about the book and decided to check it our online, but that they didn’t know any Spanish and thus refused to read something they wouldn’t understand. Others asked me if there was a “translated version” coming at some point. Then came the comments from friends of friends. Why write something not entirely here or there? Why did I write something in two languages? Was I unaware that most people who speak Spanglish aren’t educated and don’t read? How was I going to try to sell a book like that? Finally, complete strangers started voicing their thoughts and taking the time to leave 1-star Amazon reviews telling fellow English-only speakers to stay away from the book at all costs. This was surprising because about 75% of the narrative is written in English and the rest is a mixture of Spanish and Spanglish that, as a plethora of reviewers have pointed out, is perfectly understandable to any reader paying attention to context and/or willing to spend a few second online looking for a word.

Read the full essay at Entropy

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