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Preserving Caló Through Audio Storytelling

Starting in April, you’ll hear some new additions to the programming lineup on Marfa Public Radio. One of them is a show called Caló. The show’s host Oscar Rodriguez explains more about what Caló is, his process for writing each episode, and what he hopes to achieve with the program.

By Bárbara Anguiano

Caló is not quite Spanish and it's not really slang either. It’s a dialect unique to the southwest, heard through the barrios and borderlands.

Host and producer Oscar Rodriguez describes Caló as a patois, or a mixture of languages that evolved among the people who lived along the Rio Grande. Eventually, Rodriguez says, that language began moving and across the southwest — to California and up to Colorado.

The program consists of a weekly 4-minute episode that focuses on a specific word in Caló. And while the show has been around for a year now on Marfa Public Radio, it's only been heard during the music show "Dos Horas con Primo."

But beginning in April, Caló can be heard every Wednesday during Morning Edition at 7:45 a.m., and again during All Things Considered at 3:44 p.m.

For more on the show, Marfa Public Radio caught up Rodriguez to learn about the history of Caló and why he's turning to radio to try and preserve this border dialect.

Interview Highlights

On Rodriguez's approach to each episode

Rodriguez says each episode is based on a formula that makes it easy to focus on the terms being used, so that the listener doesn’t have to worry about catching up with previous episodes. The stand-alone episodes begin with an introduction of the phrase being used.

The main character, named after a childhood friend of Rodriguez, typically finds himself in situations where the Caló word or phrase is used.

“[Hopefully,] people will refresh their memories of Caló, and hopefully this piece of culture that has evolved over centuries will stay alive,” Rodriguez says, “Because there's still a lot of people speaking it.”

On preserving Caló through the radio

Rodriguez says telling these stories and sharing these terms through audio makes sense.

“These are folklore stories in, in some regard," said Rodriguez. "So what I'm doing is just retelling those stories in the same way — orally.

Rodriguez says his goal with Caló is to help keep the language alive. 

"At the end of the day, it is about language, and how language provides color in and of itself, without the need of a visual aid,” Rodriguez said. “There's a lot of humanity in these terms and that language.”

Bárbara Anguiano is Morning Edition Host and reporter at Marfa Public Radio.