Agnes Torres Al-Shibibi: Habla Español?

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California’s Spanish heritage is found everywhere, and none more so than in the names of the places we inhabit. Agnes Torres Al‐Shibibi has this Perspective.

You say a‐la‐MEE‐dA, I say Alameda, at least the Spanish‐speaking part of my bilingual brain does.

I recently moved to the Bay Area from Seattle (by way of Florida and my native Puerto Rico). Now the city and street names that bear the linguistic stamp of my forebears are everywhere, and I can’t help but think how much that would have delighted my dad.

He would have gotten a kick out of learning that the humbly named Palo Alto was an affluent center of the tech universe. And the litany of saints ‐ San Jose, Santa Clara, Santa Rosa ‐ would have warmed his very Catholic heart.

Mira, Papi: El Camino Real; Vallejo; Benicia; Martinez!


Pride in his language and culture was central to my father’s identity. Whenever he faced bigotry over his accent, he was quick to point out that his people had named his adopted state La Florida in the 1500s.

My brain’s focus on Spanish pronunciations in my new California surroundings was inevitable. To my dad, the town Central Floridians pronounce OH‐VEE‐DOE was always Oviedo. We’d visit historic San Agustin, not St. Augustine.

Despite my teenage eye‐rolling then, I’m so grateful now that Spanish was spoken in my home and that I’ve never lost it. It breaks barriers, and I can connect with so many more people because of it. I met some of my dearest friends when we overheard each other speaking Spanish.

This holiday season, my father has been on my mind more than usual. He would have been 92 on Dec. 3, and he would have loved Northern California: the lemon tree in our back yard, the warmth of the sun and road trips to read out loud, together, the names on the highway signs.

With a Perspective, I’m Agnes Torres Al‐Shibibi.

Agnes Torres Al‐Shibibi is a copy editor. She lives in San Jose.