Some loco spray-painted, “Merry Christmas, ESL,” on a home three blocks from ours. Although East Side Longos, a gang whose members mope like constipated Transylvanians in Dickies, signed the message, I saw it through nerd goggles.
ESL also stands for English as a Second Language, so, when I first spied the seasonal graffiti, I pictured a freshly shorn cholo, giddy off of glue fumes and his abuelita’s mango nog, decorating walls on Christmas Eve, so proud to have dumped feliz navidad from his vocabulary, patriotically assimilating English into his crimes against low-income housing.
In fact, my imagined vandal is so down with speaking American that wearing a Playa t-shirt to the beach holds nada a bit of irony for him. Fool’s just kicking back on the sand, not labeling it. He’s still wearing his socks. Real cholos never take off their socks. Just like real cholas are born with anorexic eyebrows.
I was jonesing to take a picture of this literate vato’s work but when I walked back to the corner to snap a pic, a pinche Grinche had whitewashed it.
A mini-Pearl Harbor has been gifting me further adventures in ESL.
At an Orange County hotel, I’ve been teaching English to a group of eighteen Japanese pubescents.
TJ warned me that my charges might suffer from an excessive amount of respect for their elders, but the batch of islanders I got is as American as our national bird: the finger. These children sass. They lack intellectual curiosity. They want to go to the mall. They believe that their crotches exist so that they can hide their phones in them and text the person sitting next to them. They are individuals. The cultural divide between us is not a divide. I sass. My intellectual curiosity takes long naps. I want to go to the mall. My crotch has found work as a smuggler.
For introduction’s sake, I instructed my students to create identity cards with four sentences on them:
My name is…
My favorite food is…
My favorite animal is…
When I grow up, I want to be a…
In the tradition of Travie McCoy, one teen wrote that he wanted to be a billionaire. He also wrote that he loves to eat crab. I told him, “I have crabs!” and showed him my crab tattoo scuttling down my forearm.
The future billionaire’s sidekick’s refusal to choose a favorite animal was frustrating me, why couldn’t he just lie like everybody else and write cat or dog, so I went through some animals with him:
“Why can’t you be more like him?” I said and pointed at the future billionaire. To the future billionaire, I prompted, “Favorite animal.”
He threw the sign of the horns and shouted, “WHITE RYAN!”
The kids’ mangling of English, their alchemical transformation of Rs into Ls and Ls into Rs awes me and reminds me of the linguistic deformities that happened in my house, growing up with a mother whose native language was Mexican Spanish but who was forced to eat California English everyday. My ear is soothed by what foreign accents do to English. It soothes my ear when a Japanese tomboy tells me she wants to be a pirate and I say, “Like Johnny Depp?” and she answers, “No. Fry!”
Oh, she wants to be rike Rindbergh.
And the thing is, all language that we inherit is bastard vomit. Language travels from one group of people who chew it up and spit it out to another group of people who chews it up and spits it out and we are currently chewing this inheritance up and spitting it out and who knows who will gobble it and what they will do with it but it will be interesting and innovative because the future is always innovative. The future will be full of ranguage.