Up and down el Rio Blanco: After all, it’s just a word

It’s just a word.
It was supposed to be funny and in my mind, maybe add a little balance, something I strive for.
But it’s not so funny when you have to explain it and that’s what I had to do the other day.
The “it” is the word “el” used in the title of my column.
My wife asked why I used it the first time, thinking I might get a little grief about it. I also had one of my best friends, someone I grew up with, kind of wrinkle his nose at me when asking why I used the word.
I hadn’t heard much more about it until Tuesday, when a friend came into my office and asked me why I used the word “el” in the paper and what it meant.
“What does it mean anyways, ‘the’?” He asked and answered his own question.
“Yes,” I replied.
“Well, why do you use it?”
“You know Rio Blanco means White River in Spanish, right?” I asked.
“Yes, but why can’t you write Up and Down the Rio Blanco?” my friend asked.
“I think it kind of adds balance, three words in English and three in Spanish,” I said.
My friend thought maybe it was just a one-time thing but he kept reading it and had several people (he didn’t want to mention any names) say they didn’t like its use either.
“It’s bad enough we have to print everything in Spanish, what is el, Spanish or Mexican,” my friend asked.
“I believe the etymology is Latin,” I said with a smile.
My friend suggested I not use the word anymore, or at least have the readers vote on it.
“This paper has always used English words,” my friend said. “I just don’t want to read more like it in the paper, I moved from California to get away from that.”
I kind of thought my friend was asking me if I was Mexican.
I’ve been asked my nationality many times and have been called a Mexican more times than I have been called an American.
I was born and raised in Meeker, Colo.
Both my parents were born near Las Vegas, New Mexico in a place called Trujillo. Neither had more than an elementary education. My mom told me she went through the sixth-grade but left because she spent more time gathering wood for the teacher’s house than learning, so she went to work in the “in the fields.”
“I used to work like a man,” my 87-year-old mom likes to tell me.
Because of my parents’ lack of education, it was important to them that my siblings and I go to school and learn English.
My parents spoke to us in Spanish and we spoke to them in English, I believe I understood Spanish before English. Our system benefited our whole family but now I wish I would have spoken back to them in Spanish. Growing up in Meeker, as one of just a few Spanish-speaking families in town, it wasn’t cool to speak Spanish and it was embarrassing when my folks did around my friends.
My dad, who I’ve written about before, and who passed away in 1993, used to tell us not to listen when kids called us Mexicans. We knew who we were.
“They are no better than you and you are no better than them,” my dad would tell us. “When we die, everyone gets six feet of ground, doesn’t matter how much money you have, what kind of car you drive or what color your skin is, everybody gets six feet of ground.”
My folks wanted us to get a college education. My older brother Roman and I earned degrees and my younger brother Joe made them proud when he joined the Army. Although our sister Priscilla did not go to college, she has had a career in the medical field for more than 20 years.
I’m not trying to offend anyone by adding an additional foreign word to my column’s title and maybe now it is more fun than funny being able to speak another language. I’m not embarrassed anymore that I can speak Spanish but I am embarrassed that I can’t speak it fluently.
I obviously did not take the word out of the title. Thank God I’m an American and protected by the First Amendment of our country’s Constitution. But, if a lot of my friends felt threatened by the word, I would take it out. After all, it’s just a word.