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Mastering Immersion: Learning to Street Speak

Once you’ve mastered slang in any given language, you know you’re immersed. You’re in up to the crown of your head and there is no going back now.

In Mexico, there are words and phrases that are used throughout the Republic. Phrases like, “¿Qué onda?” (What’s up?), chido (cool), and simón (yes) are common enough and understood by the majority.

However, there is a vast vocabulary that is specific to any given region. Take, for example, Mexico City. People from Mexico City are often referred to as chilangos. They generally have a way of speaking that is unique in intonation and vocabulary to, for example, people in Yucatán, Chiapas, or Sonora.

Within Mexico City, there are numerous areas that also have their distinctive way of speaking. The most notorious of these is Tepito. This is the kingdom of contraband, the blackest of the black markets and home to any number of colorful characters. About thirty years ago, no one outside of Tepito would have been able to understand the locals. Now, though, most chilangos and more and more Mexicans can follow along with the jerga (slang). We can thank the writers Luis Zapata, José Agustín and the following song, “Chilanga Banda” for a lot of the renown that Tepiteños have now.

The following song, “Chilanga Banda,” (gang/ group from Mexico City) is no easy translation. It is written entirely in jerga from Mexico City, spefically, Tepito. It is a must for anyone hoping to learn about Mexico’s underbelly, street talk, and underground culture. I strongly recommend checking out a translation to common Spanish before trying to really understand it. There is a great translation by Toni Merchant here. I also recommend checking out Jergas de Habla Hispana here. They offer Spanish definitions of the palabras chilangas (words from Mexico City).

When I sat down to do the translation, I had to decide if I would do a literal translation that wouldn’t have any rhythm or a loose translation that might. I decided to mix it up. So, all excuses aside, in the next post I will provide you with the impossible: my English translation of “Chilanga Banda.”

Vocabulary

¿Qué onda? – What’s up?
Chido – Cool
Simón – Yes (an extension of Sí…)
Chilango – A person from Mexico City. This term was originally pejorative, but it is now widely accepted.
Jerga – slang

Palabras – Words