You can find Danié on her website:
Her Youtube channel is: https://www.youtube.com/c/journeyofabraid
Anne: Hey friends. Welcome to the American Slang podcast, where we will explore language and culture in different regions of the United States. Slang is a type of informal language that’s typically spoken in a certain area or by a group of people. Culture is dynamic. Language is dynamic. And in this podcast, we will explore the connections between them and the way new words and expressions emerge in different places in the United States. I’m Anne. I am an online English teacher and I specialize in exam preparation. You can find out more about the courses that I offer and about the Infinity Fluency Academy on my website, which I’ll provide the link in the show notes.
Without further ado, let’s get started with today’s episode. Danié is a Mexican artist who uses braiding as a call for human unification in times of social transformation. She is the cofounder of “The Bazaar for Good,” a foundation to help create better conditions for children around the world. She is fluent in Spanish and English and was born in Mexico City and currently lives in the United States and Dallas, but spent many years living in Miami as well. And she’s quite the global citizen. She’s also resided in cities like Toronto, Stockholm, Madrid, and many other cities around the world. And today we’re talking about language, identity, and some slang words that are spoken in multicultural environments and some of the diverse places she’s lived. So, I would love to get started, Danié, with you just telling me about the creative work that you do braiding and a little bit about how it’s a tool used for change.
Danié: Yes, definitely. And actually, thank you for the lovely introduction. The only part that was lacking was that I also speak French and am actually married to a Frenchman, so I actually live in three languages.
Anne: You do? So you’re trilingual and a polyglot? Yes. That’s incredible.
Danié: Yes, we all are at home. And I think that’s also why I’m so intrigued by language, because if you listen to one of our conversations, it’s like the three languages coming in and out, all the time, and so you start to realize the words that exist and that don’t exist in a language. And it’s really interesting to see. And that’s also why I gravitate towards visuals. That’s why, to answer your question, braiding is so important for me because I think that there are so many languages that speak without words, and art is one of those. Art brings visuals that resonate in different ways to people based on their culture, based on their context, but that regardless, carry a message without words being needed. Um, and anyway, I mean, words can also be misunderstood. Even if you speak a language, it doesn’t mean you use them the same way people from certain cultures do. And that has always been very intriguing to me. We’re always kind of lost in translation.
Anne: Mhm. Yes, it’s such a powerful tool. Art is so visual and it’s so moving, and that’s why I’ve been so moved by your Instagram stories and how you do everything in both English and Spanish, and I was wondering if that’s a tool that you find that connects you with your audience in a way that maybe if you only did everything in one language, you wouldn’t connect to as many people?
Danié: That is always one of my biggest questions, if I should do only one or the other. Because sometimes it takes so much time. And also, like the videos that I do on YouTube, I do both versions. And it’s so funny because in the end, as much as I try to say the same thing, when you’re speaking one language, you connect to a different side of your brain. So really, the imagery or the way you express will always be totally different. But I’ve always wanted to braid both languages because I think, um, a lot of my platform, which is “Journey of a Braid it’s not, journey of “the” braid. Because from this perspective of “a” random braid, I want to sort of speak about the human experience beyond the person. It’s not about me. It’s about how your story reflects through mine and what you can learn from that. And that’s why, for me, both languages are super important because I think that I have good insights for my people in Mexico or in Latin America that grew up with a similar culture than I do. But at the same time, I have insights for Americans that might not understand us. And I can serve as a bridge for them and also for the Latinx community, which speaks in between languages, sometimes not speaking fully Spanish or not recognizing themselves there, but that might see their story through me and hopefully want to dig deeper into their roots. Because I think that often, uh, people in Latin America, because of the oppression that they suffer in America, try to mimic life into society. And by doing so, they lose a lot about, uh, the roots. And we have such beautiful and strong roots that we cannot let go of. And that’s why I continue to do what I do in both languages.
Anne: It’s almost like you have a window into various cultures and languages through your bilingual or trilingual, um, skills. And I think that it’s true that you’re probably able to sort of speak to so many different people with different backgrounds. You’re talking a lot. I was wondering about, how you sometimes think of one word in one language, but maybe that word doesn’t exist in that other language, right? So do you find yourself kind of going back and forth, or some words and things just can’t be expressed in Spanish that could be in French or in English, for example? Do you find yourself kind of going through this?
Danié: It happens so often. It happens so often. And then it’s so frustrating because I literally spent half of my day translating words because my children, I only speak to them in Spanish, and I don’t allow them to speak at home in English. They can only speak either Spanish or French. So I’m always translating. And so often I’m like, Whoa. Or you notice little random things, such as in English, you say it’s either black or white. In Spanish, we say it’s “blanco or negro.” So we do it the other way around. Uh, it’s just those funky things where you’re like, okay, sure, this is funny, but what’s the context? And I often like looking deeper into those things. Um, but the one word that I think has resonated with me the most, and that doesn’t exist in other languages, this one will come from Swedish. But it’s really intriguing nonetheless. When I was trying to speak Swedish in Sweden, they have this thing called “lagom,” which means not too much, not too little. And that’s basically the definition of how their society needs to be. So if a child is performing extremely well in reading at, uh, age three, they’re going to push him down so that he’s to the level of the others. And if someone is like, uh, an absolute disaster, they’re going to push him up. But that’s the way they want to stay so, that’s balance. And which is interesting as a concept, because obviously, in time, you understand that balance is the only thing that makes sense because the highs and lows are what makes life kind of complicated. So for me, that has been one of the words that has stuck with me the most and that I haven’t found the equivalent in other languages because it’s such a cultural construct.
Anne: And do you think it’s because they don’t want such a competitive culture? They want people sort of at the same level?
Danié: In a way, they were aiming for socialism. But it’s very well done in Sweden. Like, you really have incredible opportunities. My second son was born there. And even the way the health system works, it’s genius. Like, they have women that deliver kids. That’s all they do. They’re older women. That’s all they do. You don’t need a genecologist to deliver a child when it’s a normal birth here. They make it seem like you need a dula. You need a genecologist, and you need, like, rocket science when it’s the body. So they’re very logical in that way because the government is like, all those things are part of the government. And so culturally, it’s another story. And I think that when you have that contrast with America always wanting more, more, more, more, more to the verge of destruction, you understand why that average is so valuable.
Anne: That’s true. Yeah, because I guess the American idea of always being the best and having the biggest.
Danié: The world can’t take it anymore. And the English language, going back to the theme, like the English language, the words of destruction in English means success. When you think of when you say, how do you talk about someone’s success? You say you hit the target. You’re killing it. Blow them up. Smash them up. Break a leg.
Anne: It’s very violent, isn’t it?
Danié: It’s masculine. It’s violent. And you are not succeeding unless you’re destroying something else.
Anne: Mhm? Perhaps you realize that because of your identity, right? And your ability to notice those nuances. Because maybe I grew up speaking that, so I didn’t even realize, of course, how masculine and violent it is.
Danié: Yes. You need that external view.
Anne: We need to reconstruct the language in some ways and reformulate the way we talk about success.
Danié: Words matter. Words matter. One of the things that for me is it’s a mistake that I do on purpose. In English, in, uh, English, plants and animals, uh, are not considered to have a soul. You say the dog, the flower. In Spanish, everything is masculine or feminine. Everything has a soul, even inanimate objects. And so when I speak of them, I usually turn it to “he,” “she,” which is something people do when they love their pets, but they don’t do too, which is depriving them of a soul. And that doesn’t make any sense. And that’s something that also comes I mean, the indigenous languages from North America, from all over the US. The Navajo and teh Cherokee, they all had this association of giving an identity and giving a soul to everything because there is everything is made out of something else that it was living. Um, and the simple recognition of not doing that, I think. Of course, that’s why you see all these random people that just go out and kill animals just for the fun of it. Why would they not? They don’t have a soul. It’s like when children were not supposed to have a soul and they didn’t get a name until age one because they would probably die and things like that.
Danié: It’s culture and it’s up to us.
Anne: Yeah, it’s interesting. It’s kind of like personifying well, like plants, for example. You’re saying that even the plant has the soul and it’s recognized through the masculine or feminine. Interesting. Uh, I’ve never thought about that. Yes, the masculine or feminine just really confuses me. Right. When I’m speaking Spanish, I always confuse them. Is it masculine? Is it feminine? But now I’m going to see it in a whole new light and think about it in terms of really expressing the soul behind the, uh, creature.
Danié: Exactly. Especially because when you look into the past and into the deities I never pronounced that correctly. I have issues with that word. Yes. Of, um, the past. Like in Mexico, in the area that now is called Mexico, uh, for every masculine god, there was a feminine version of it. So you had with Huitzilopochtli, which was the god of war, but then there was a counterpart, the feminine, whose name we don’t remember because it’s culture, but they were equals. Having a masculine element or a feminine element is equilibrating. It’s balancing itself out.
Danié: Even though Spanish at the same time, Spanish is so “macho” driven. “La Patria.” How do you say patria in English? Yeah. Well, it’s like the country, but like the “La Patria.” But for us, patria is, like, related to patre. So it’s like the father country.
Anne: That’s interesting.
Danié: It’s awful.
Anne: We might be like the motherland. Right? Yeah.
Danié: And, um, again, when we swear in Spanish, we always go against the mothers. All the bad words go straight into women.
Anne: It’s so derogatory as well.
Danié: And then English as well, right? In English? Well, yeah. I mean, you kind of have it too.
Anne: The dynamic, kind of like the intermingling in the United States of Spanish and English, especially in Miami, for example, does it create this atmosphere of, uh, new, innovative words, words kind of coming out of that environment?
Danié: Yeah, definitely. And it’s funny because it depends on the place you’re at. I think when I first arrived in Miami, I thought it was so funny to hear the way they speak initially, because they mix them all up, but then also because someone can be speaking or someone who doesn’t speak a word of Spanish would still say, “Ay pobrecito” and I’m, like… full English. No, Spanish.
Danié: “Pobrecito” is a word they know. And that’s the worst of words in Spanish because it’s like, poor soul. It’s the wrong story. It’s just bad. And that’s one of the words that sticks. And then “Octava Avenida.” So they turn Avenida 8. They just switched those two. When you’re in Miami.
Anne: Like the Fifth Avenue.
Danié: They make it the other way around than what we do in Mexico, for example, which, uh, is they would.
Anne: Change, like, the adjective for the order. Exactly.
Danié: I think it’s super funny. And then they always say in Spanish “Que cute” and that, for me, sounds like so bad.
Anne: It’s kind of like butchering it’s in some ways, butchering the Spanish language.
Danié: And also, like, there are so many versions of Spanish that I learned so much living in Miami because you have them all in one place and you realize that in order to really speak Spanish, you need to know, like, five synonyms for each word. And then, like, for example, in Mexico, we’re the only ones that say “pastel” for cake. We are the only ones. All the others say torta.
Anne: Oh, really?
Danié: Which torta, for me is like, uh, bread and ham and like, that like.
Anne: A sandwich, in a way.
Danié: Exactly. Kind of like a sandwich, but with, like, a different bread. That’s a torta. But for them, it’s pastel. The equivalent of pastel. And Picina, uh, or Pileta is what they call a pool. In Argentina, they say pileta. In all the other places, they say piscina, which comes from the French “la picsine.” In Mexican, we say “la alberca.” And I’m always like, doesn’t make any sense. I need to Google that.
Anne: So there’s so many regional differences and words that are used in certain countries. And then in Miami, you have people from Puerto Rico, from Cuba, from Mexico, from Colombia, right?
Danié: From everywhere and everyone’s Spanish changes. Like, my Spanish is not the same. After living in Miami for almost eight.
Anne: Years, do you feel like your Spanish sort of like I don’t know, the mixing? Did it improve?
Danié: Probably it went down. It is complicated because obviously, when you’re living within three languages, um, you don’t have that much of a level in either or because your brain is like just you share space. Obviously, you have limited time, and so you lose on one or the other.
Anne: Yeah, that’s true. And you always have to keep refreshing your brain on certain vocabulary words right. From different languages. And do you feel like you’re sort of a mentor to other mothers? Because I feel like raising bilingual children is always a challenge, and oftentimes people are a little bit lost about how to do it. Do you help other mothers?
Danié: I think I should. It’s so funny because I have this love hate relationship with social media. So I go like this all the time.
Danié: And, so eventually, I’ve been creating this series of videos that talk about all these things, and I just haven’t uploaded them. So lately I’ve been uploading them. I started, uh, like, three weeks ago. And it’s touching upon all those subjects because I do think there are so many things that need to be talked about. And even my friends, my friends who had kids the same age as mine that grew up together, the kids almost don’t speak Spanish anymore. And for me, that’s like, the worst thing you can do to your ancestors, to yourself, to your country, to them. For me, that’s extremely sad. I understand it from people that have these need to mimatize into a culture for oppression. But my friends are not that are not part of that target. And yet they’re letting the language die and so I’m the painful friend that says this out loud because I really think that they’re taking away something that they will regret, from their kids.
Anne: Yeah. It seems like being bilingual is such a positive thing right. And having so many opportunities in the world, it kind of expanding your opportunities. However, it seems like it has some negative connotations right. In the US.
Anne: Or people think of it as a bad thing or kind of erasing your cultural background.
Danié: but because also people, like, truly admire the, uh, united States, and we are colonized countries, and that’s something that you never let go of. It’s cultural baggage that we carry, regardless of where we go. It’s like the cultural baggage of being a woman. You carry that with you. And the way that you present yourself and that you move in the world is totally different. For me, the braid has also been a lot about that. For me, the bread has been like this element of power that not only reminds me of my mission, which is about an intention to help every one woman out at least every single day. But it’s also this chip that when I can see myself in the mirror and see myself totally different, I choose to be different and let go of all those programs that I was given growing up that involved culture, that involved femininity, that relate to all those things.
Anne: And sort of constantly reconstructing yourself and recreating sort of this authentic self. Right? Because I feel like you’re so authentic and you’re so creative, and you have such a unique voice in this world. Right? Yeah. So your work is really connected to that idea of finding that authenticity and bringing it out. I think it’s really beautiful.
Danié: Because that’s all there is in the end. I think that otherwise, we all have it. I always see the world, like, this big puzzle, and we all have a, um, piece of it. And if you are not being your authentic self, you’re just not like, the piece will never fit. You think that it will because it’s easier to navigate when you can just merge, but the piece will never fit. And so that hole will be left because we all carry this fragment of information that is needed. And it’s very important to go deeper and to be able to see it within oneself, because that, one, it gives you purpose, and two, because otherwise, uh, I mean, life kind of becomes boring in time, especially, like, situations like this when you see everything that’s happening and you’re like, whoa, yesterday… I haven’t been on Instagram much, but then I was like, okay, I’m going to catch up.
Anne: And I was like, Let’s turn that off.
Anne: Many people listening are going to be sort of like learning English as a second language. Right. So I’m curious, since you’re, um, so proficient and so fluent in so many languages, what advice do you have for someone who is sort of upper intermediate and who just really wants to advance their language skills? Do, uh, you feel like it’s just like a matter of talking, or is it just a matter of studying, or is it a matter of immersion? Because a lot of people can’t live in the culture always, right?
Danié: It’s a matter of passion. And obviously, if you want to connect with a language, it’s either because you need it or because you really connect with it. And perhaps there’s something in your ancestry that you’re not aware of that could sort of relate to you, that your soul is calling you. I think that our souls have calls for languages. I see it in my son. My son is desperate to learn German, and I’m always like, he’s got to speak German because they’re French German, but that’s the language that he chooses. And that’s interesting, but I do think, uh, that there’s a calling to that. But for me, I can tell you that the way that I started learning French was by reading TinTin. Like these comic books, TinTin in Spanish, TinTin in English, I guess, with, uh, my husband. So he would read one character and I would read the other one. And comic books are a huge part of French culture. Like, they have really heavy novels that are just written in the format of comic books. So my husband is passionate about comic books, but actually they’re not what we think of as comic books. And so we started reading Tantan, which was the easiest. And that really helped me with pronunciation. But what has been the most useful has been music? Because when you just love a song and you desperately need to understand what it says, it’s the best. So I have my different singers in French that I adore, that help me keep up with the, uh, language and that were very useful for me when I was starting to learn it, like twelve years ago. So I think just go for the things that you’re passionate about and then you’re going to be so hungry to understand that you’re going to push forward so many more buttons instead of, um, just doing duolingo. “Hello..my name is..”
Anne: and music really connects to your soul. It connects to it’s so rhythmic and it’s something that you can repeat and remember and it sticks with you. Right?
Danié: And shows like this, which are wonderful.
Anne: That’s true. Any words that you from your Indigenous ancestry that were passed down to you?
Danié: Yeah, I don’t know. The one that I remember the most was “xo” shut up. And, um, my grandmother would always say Yolotl, and Yolotl means heart. Uh, but she would speak in Spanish and then say Yolotl. And she went, um, through both languages. It was so beautiful. That’s the thing. There’s so much that has to be said about “mestzaje,” like mixed culture. I don’t even know how I would say that word in English. “Mestizaje” Do you know? Like the fact that most of like.
Anne: A multicultural background or yeah, but that.
Danié: Involves specifically Indigenous and European, uh, like the colonization of Europeans into the native culture. I don’t know how that would be called. Like, even for a Cherokee that is mixed with an American, it’s the same kind of process, but with an English person, like, how would that mixed race be called? I don’t know if we say mestiz, but I don’t know.
Anne: Yeah, I wonder if you could say, “bicultural.”
Danié: but then it’s just too general. It doesn’t talk about colonization.
Anne: Yeah, that’s true.
Danié: Like, you can be mixed raised. The point being that in the end, it’s very special. There are all these words that sometimes I love, uh, using. Like, for example, “chamaco.” “Chamaco” means child, but it’s very indigenous even “Guey.” You know how in Mexico it’s an indigenous word, uh, it means cool, right? Not really. It means a gazillion things like man. Yeah, it’s mostly man. How are you doing, man?
Anne: Okay. Yeah.
Danié: Uh, I think that looking deeper into language is something that will always connect you.
Anne: Connecting to the culture and then using that passion to drive you right to understand.
Danié: Exactly. Recipes. And all of it is also like a Mayan word to chocolate. And then it moves to English as well. But it’s coming from us. It’s coming from, um, the mixture of Spanish, because it’s fully indigenous. I don’t know if it’s Aztec. I mean, if it’s Nagal or if it’s Mayan or Zapotec or Zapotec. And Oaxaca is one of the regions for anyway.
Anne: Do you find yourself dreaming in multiple languages? Do you mainly dream in one or the other or many?
Danié: That’s a very good question. I don’t know in which I know sometimes I dreamt in English. It depends on the person that I’m speaking to, I guess. But it’s a very good question. I need to pay attention to my dreams. I haven’t in a while.
Anne: Thank you so much for having this conversation. This has been a, uh, beautiful talk, and I really appreciate you sharing your thoughts on this topic and inspiring all of us today.
Danié: Of course. Thank you very much. I’m so happy that you’re building these kind of platforms to bring together language from a different perspective.
Anne: Thank you for listening. I hope you enjoyed this interview with Danié as much as I did. If you want to follow her on social media, I’ll leave her Instagram handle and YouTube channel and website in the show notes and follow this podcast for future episodes on Internet slang. Slang from the Southern states, slang from the Midwest and other regions United States.