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Fronteras: Centuries-old dialect of Caló reflects hard-fought human experiences of Chicano borderland barrios

There are several slang and informal words you hear in Spanish that aren’t actually Spanish.

Words like vato (dude), cruda (hungover) and gabacho (Anglo) are words found in the dialect of Caló.

Caló originated with the Iberian Romani in Europe, and eventually made its way to Southwest after the Spanish conquest.

Oscar Rodriguez, also known as “El Marfa,” is a researcher of Native history in Texas and Mexico. He was raised speaking Caló in the borderlands of West Texas.

Rodriguez hosts the program Caló: A Borderland Dialect on Marfa Public Radio.

The four-minute episodes utilize recurring characters like “Boy” and “El Lowrider,” and places like dance halls to explore Caló phrases and their meanings.

“What I try to convey in those stories is life in the barrio — in the barrios of Odessa and Ojinaga (Mexico),” Rodriguez said. “What people were seeing and experiencing, and what was a topic of conversation among those people.”

Rodriguez said he hopes that through the program, people recognize and highlight the important heritage of this little-known dialect.

“The people who introduced Caló, who brought Caló, who fostered Caló over the centuries left behind — even for those who do not speak it — graffiti and memories … that are still around,” he said.

Norma Martinez can be reached at norma@tpr.org and on Twitter at @NormDog1