Caló: Talk to El Flaco, esa

Today’s feature is about ‘el’ and ‘ese.’ Since they come from Spanish, there are feminine versions of these articles ‘la’ and ‘esa.’ Like many languages, Caló provides for distinction of familiarity, those close versus strangers. ‘El’ translated into modern Spanish is simply ‘the,’ as in el paso. It’s always inanimate, never refers to a human being except in rare and notorious cases, like El Chapo. In Caló, ‘el’ and ‘la’ confers familiarity. So when you refer to La Toña you’re talking about the only Toña we know and can possibly be talking about. Ese and esa, on the other hand, say you’re an outsider. You say esa to refer to the Toña who’s not your cousin dismissively, without even saying her name. In this way all the Toñas in town are all but one outsiders. Other than La Toña, the rest are esas. It’s a little complicated, but it’s how you distinguish close friends and relatives from the eses and esas.

By Oscar “El Marfa” Rodriguez

The young woman was visiting for the summer from Califas, staying with her cousins in the North Ranchito. Friendly and good looking, she was everywhere and talked to everybody. She quickly got a reputation for not knowing Caló, only Spanish and English, but acting like she did and often getting it wrong— real gacho wrong. 

Flaco, Boy, and their uncle, Tavo, were leaning against Tavo’s car parked on the side of a park lane when she cruised by with her cousins in a blue dented 1967 Impala. 

“Chula,” said Flaco.

“And she was looking at you, Flaco,” said Tavo.

“You think so?” asked Flaco.

“Simón,” said Tavo.

Boy gave his uncle a brief blank stare. 

They waited for the chevy to make its way back to them. They’d been standing for hours, Boy soaking in everybody’s greetings after being away at college all year. 

Soon the chevy came back and parked across the lane from them.

Tavo nodded his head back at Flaco.

Four young women emptied out of the Impala. All but one hopped on the front hood. The woman from Califas stood next to the car and turned to look at Boy.

Boy nodded at her and looked over at Flaco, who looked longingly across the lane. 

“Hey, esas!” Tavo called out.

The young woman walked across the lane and stood in front of Boy.

“Hi. You’re El Boy?” she asked.

“Chale, just Boy,” responded Boy.

“I’m La G,” she responded.

“Órale, esa. My brother El Flaco and my uncle El Tavo,” he said nodding at his kin.

“You from Califas?” asked Tavo.

“Yeah, San Bernardino,” she said.

“You from here, El Tavo?” she asked.

After a long pause to glance at Boy and Flaco, Tavo said, “Simón, esa.” 

The young woman clearly didn’t get the missed step, but she winced in annoyance at Tavo’s delayed reply.

“You still in school, Boy?” she asked Boy.

“Sirol, esa, but not here,” answered Boy.

“Thought he said you were from here,” she said.

“I am, but I go to school somewhere else,” said Boy.

“It don’t make sense. El Flaco too?” she said pointing at him with her chin.

“I don’t know,” said Boy. “Talk to him, esa,”

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