“Cantón No Es Chante”

On Caló this week, writer Oscar Rodriguez explores the words “cantón” and “chante” — shared-housing and a home, respectively.

You can hear Caló every Tuesday on Marfa Public Radio during “Dos Horas con Primo.”

The long week at the welding yard had finally ended. Friday punchout was here, and the line was moving fast.

Some people were headed to their chante, others to their cantón. It was all the same to Lito, but he was about to find out there was a big life difference between the two.

Lito and his ride-sharing buddies, all of them young men, Arvey, Chito, and R.L. got into Arvey’s Yukon. Everybody except Arvey, who was driving, collapsed in their seat for the two hour-long drive back home.

“I’ll sure be glad to finally get to my chante,” said Arvey.

“Me too, ese,” said Lito, who was sitting in the front seat. Chito raised his head and momentarily sat up in the backseat. He didn’t say anything but winced to mark his dissension.

Arvey looked back at him through the rearview mirror and raised his eyebrows in agreement.

Lito noted the communication.

After some time of silence, Lito asked, “What?”

“What do you mean?” asked Arvey.

“What I said about chante,” answered Lito.

“Oh, nothing,” said Arvey.

Miles down the road, R.L. asked, “When did you leave your dad’s cantón,” never opening his eyes or even stirring in his seat. He and everybody in the truck were well aware that only Arvey was married and no longer lived at home.

Lito looked back.

“Right after I eloped with Choco,” said Arvey.

Lito could tell it was an indirect comment about his earlier chante remark.

“What’s the difference?” he asked, not really expecting an answer.

The three other men let out a faint whistle.

“What?” asked Lito again.

“Big difference,” said R.L. from the back, his eyes never opening.

“It’s just Spanish for home, que no,” said Lito.

“Chale (no),” said RL.

“It’s not Spanish,” added Chito.

Lito frowned and looked over at Arvey.

“Well, it’s not Spanish and not the same thing—a chante is not a cantón,” said Arvey. “One is yours and the other is your family’s.”

“Same thing,” insisted Lito, reaching over to turn on the radio.

Arvey turned off the radio to make the point that Lito should listen.

“That’s like when that dude at work says he went to college,” says R.L., “And all he did was go inside one of the college buildings and bought a coke from the coke machine. Shhhhh”

“Sí, if that’s going to college for you, then you’re good,” explained Chito. “Have you gone to college, Lito?”

“I did,” said RL.

“Me too,” Arvey piled on.“You Chito?”

“Simón (yes),” said Chito. “To law school, ese; but I decided to come back home and work as a welder.

Too boring as a lawyer, watchas (you see)?”

R.L. and Chito chucked. Arvey stayed quiet but looked over at Lito. Everybody got silent. Miles and miles passed, and nobody said a word.

“So I live at my parents’ house,” Lito finally asked. “What’s the difference?”

“The difference is it’s not yours, and you only get to claim the room where your bed is and share the kitchen and bathroom,” said Arvey.

“Unless your parents, sisters, and you switch beds all the time,” snarked R.L.

“My dad was raised in his grandparents’ house, and his parents, aunts and uncles, brothers, and everybody was living there,” explained Arvey. “That was a cantón de pocas madres (of no comparison).”

“Watcha (look), in the country, they did that, Lito,” added Chito. “They had a bunch of chantes all together sharing walls and bathrooms, y la fregada (and stuff).”

“You mean outhouses,” said R.L.

“Yeah, the spider chantes,” snickered Chito.

“But it was my grandpa’s chante cuz he got it from his parents who built it,” said Arvey. “He let his kids build on to it, and it grew and grew.”

“Where was that?” asked R.L.

“In the south ranchito,” said Arvey. “It’s still there but only my uncle’s family lives there and they tore down a lot of the surrounding chantes.”

Lito listened quietly. Miles rolled past. Finally, he spoke.

“Pos, in the city they don’t live like that anymore, ese,” he said. “Besides, what difference does it make?”

“Pos no, it’s not like the country anymore, for sure,” said Arvey. “But they still act like they do.”

“And they talk like it, too,” said R.L.

“And they mean it, too,” added Chito. “So now cantón means like a trailer park.”

“So? We’re in the city, and if I say chante or cantón or house, everybody’ll know it’s the same thing,” said Lito.

“Pos, just don’t be telling people they live in a cantón,” said Arvey. “They could take offence.”

“They could think you’re making fun of them if they live in a cantón and you say it’s a chante,” said Chito.

“Párale (stop),” RL said, pointing at a country house far off in the distance. “Over there’s a house, must where Lito’s going.”

“Wait a minute,” interrupted Chito. “It’s not a trailer park, so maybe the next one.”

“Why you vatos making such a big deal about?” asked Lito, now resting back in his seat, his eyes closed.

“It’s no big deal,” said R.L. “But if you’re going to speak Caló, don’t be using the wrong words.”

“Simón (yes),” said Chito, his back in the seat and his eyes closed. “They’re gonna think you mean one thing when you’re saying something else—could lead to misunderstanding, ese.”

“Sirol (yes), ese,” said Arvey. “Watcha, en my chante and my ranfla (car), solo Caló.”

About Carlos Morales

Carlos Morales is Marfa Public Radio's News Director, Border and Immigration Reporter, and Morning Edition Host.
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