Writing Hispanic Characters in Fiction

A decent amount of my writing involves Hispanic characters that speak Spanish as their primary language. These characters present an interesting conundrum for me as a writer.

I write in English. For English-speaking readers. How then should I tackle the Spanish being spoke in my writing?

When these characters speak to one another, should I provide a translation immediately after the dialogue?

I tried that for a few stories, but decided that the reader gets taken out of the story when there is a whole translation box directly after the dialogue. So, I opted to only provide translations for long sequences or direct quotes from songs or movies.

I used to write Spanish-speaking characters to have choppy English. I wanted my character’s accent to shine through when they spoke English and really emphasize the culture within them. The new problem, however, was that these characters sounded dumb. Quite literally. They sounded low brow and unintelligent when compared to the white characters. I didn’t like this. So, to combat this, I tried to not even bother adding accent into their dialogue. Instead, they spoke perfect English. Although I might say that a certain character had a thick hispanic accent, it does not mean that they can’t compose sentences properly and be an intelligent individual.

Once I decided to write my Hispanic characters like this, it felt as though they had a lot more flavor and things to offer the story when they weren’t suppressed by a perceived language barrier.

My Hispanic characters speak perfect English in their dialogue because they can still communicate effectively. The language in which they speak was only ever thought about because of the reader’s experience.

At some point I decided that the story and emotions being told and felt by my characters were way more important than what language it all was.

At the end of the day I’m in the business of sharing stories and trying to expose universalities between all people.

My Hongos story has the woman, Maria, speak in choppy English. This story is about the language barrier, so I deemed it effective to have her struggle with her English. In La Margarita, I had the maid characters, Consuelo and Nina, speak in English although their primary language was Spanish. I don’t particularly remember if I mentioned their language preferences, but I found that it didn’t matter all too much.

And that’s it right there. The thesis of it all.

It don’t matter all too much.

Pardon my English.

-Hec

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