I grew up in Lawndale, California with a good mix of families from everywhere. In the 1960’s and 70’s it seemed that no one who lived in Los Angeles was actually born there except me. My own cousins called me the Gringa. My closest friends in grade school were from Scotland, Canada, Indonesia, Cuba, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and Argentina. It was rare to visit a friend’s home and hear English spoken. Even my Scottish friend spoke in an incomprehensible English dialect at home. My parents were from Ecuador so I spoke Spanish or as they called it Castilian until I was five. Once in school I only spoke English, even at home. However, I recall having to go to special speech classes because apparently I had a thick accent. This is where I learned about Peter Piper and Theophilus Thistle, wonderful speech exercises that I used to practice English diction with my dad.
Being English proficient was very important to my family but they also wished that we would continue to speak Spanish. Sometimes I would try to speak Spanish with my Puerto Rican, Cuban, and Mexican friends, but because of our different accents and dialects we would give up; we just did not understand each other. We did not have this proliferation of Spanish language radio and TV to keep our Spanish language skills alive as exists today. At the time, I really did not think it was important to learn Spanish. I regret this now, but I grew up with the Beatles, Julie Andrews, and Catherine Deneuve. I loved all things European—especially British and French. I could sing more songs in French than in Spanish. Had I known that I would someday head a Spanish language media company I would have studied Spanish in school instead of French. It’s on my bucket list.
I visited Ecuador when I was fifteen for the first time and then again when I was nineteen. These two visits helped me improve my Spanish speaking skills significantly, but since I have never formally studied Spanish I have no idea which words are supposed to have accents, much less, where they go. When I started to get the entrepreneurial bug I first thought of launching a publication in Spanish like the LA Weekly. I loved reading the weekly for art, cultural events and the advertisements of avant-garde shops. I started to notice more content on Latin art, food and lifestyle but of course it was in English. With the growing Spanish population in the 1980’s an alternative weekly in Spanish seemed like a good idea for an entrepreneurial venture. But I could never launch such a publication because I could not write in Spanish. As I started to realize that the backbone revenues of alternative weeklies were the classified ads, I hit on the idea of publishing just Spanish classifieds, no editorial. Classified ads were simple, short, and needed little editing. Nobody would care if I forgot to use an accent on “vendo un pájaro”. This was the beginning of the concept that eventually became El Clasificado.
My name is Martha de la Torre y entiendo español….casi siempre.
Infographic information provided by: LA Almanac