Cubonics 101: Palo!'s Founder Guides Us in Miami's Native Tongue
Palo! is throwing a free party at PAX celebrating its tenth anniversary, with tons of free giveaways from Car2Go, Azucar Ice Cream, Rey de Las Fritas food truck, and more before 11 p.m. this Friday. The band's concert will be filmed and recorded for a live album, live DVD, and PBS documentary by Emmy-winning filmmaker Joe Cardonas.
Band founder Steve Roitstein says, "The thing I enjoy most about Cuban culture is that they know how to have fun, they know how to party, they appreciate flavor and sabór. It's like in their lives in general and that is a good way to live."
As evidence, here is a list of pure Miami Cubonics that have been adopted by the entire county. These are some of Steve's favorites.
10. Bibaporrú: Vicks VapoRub. "I was married to a Cuban girl in my mid-20s, and one week I got a really bad cold. And she told me: 'What you need is Bibaporrú.' I was like, 'Is that some African thing?' So we go to the store and she picks up the Vicks VapoRub, and I'm like, 'Of course! Bibaporrú.' And that's when I started to really appreciate the Cuban use of English words."
9. Papa Yon: Papa John's (pizza). "That one is especially funny because it's kinda like, well, for a lot of people 'papaya' is a bad word, because in Havana, 'papaya' means the female sexual organ, and 'papayon' means a very big papaya. That's why in Cuba, they call the papaya 'la fruta bomba.' So when people go to get pizza here, they might say, 'Vamos a comer Papa Yon,' and it's really funny."
8. Esláy: slice. "There are very few words in Spanish that begin with the letter s. It's usually preceded by an e or another vowel. A lot of Cubans will call me 'Estee.' Once I went to a Starbucks and they wrote my name as "Estif" on the cup. It's really not only Cubans that do it either, so that's how you get 'esláy' from 'slice.' "
7. Transpoteíchon: a cheap car (as in transportation). "A really common Cuban thing is when they first get here from Cuba, they'll get like a junked-out car that's only good for getting to work. It's nothing you would take someone on a date in. A lot of Cuban families when they get a better car, they hold on to the old one, and when their sister or aunt gets to this country, they hand it down to them. They don't sell it 'cause you can't get much. It's worth more to keep it as transportation."
6. Lató: laptop (computer). "A lot of Cubonics are just pronunciation of English words with a heavy Cuban accent. Like, copiúti is 'computer.' And guasápeninmeng is 'What's happening, man?' 'El guarejao' is 'warehouse,' and 'jonlé' is 'homeless.' "
5. Cora Geibo: Coral Gables. "There are so many of these for places in Miami that I just kind of lose track. It's just like that's what people understand, and that's why they use it. Like 'Coco No Grow' is 'Coconut Grove' and 'Tirate al Mar' is 'Miracle Mile.' A lot of these are universal here among Spanish speakers. It's not just Cubans."
4. La casina: lacquer thinner. "I have a friend who was getting some work done on her house, and the contractor was like 'Me voy a Home Depot pa comprar la casina,' and she was like, 'La casina. ¿Qué es eso?' And he holds up the empty can of lacquer thinner and was like, 'La casina,' and she just started laughing."
3. Da sol: that's all. "A lot of times you hear people learning to speak English, and hey, you gotta give 'em credit for trying, like my friend had a buddy who just came from Cuba and he wanted to learn English, so they were speaking English together, and when he goes to leave, he tells him: 'OK, day care,' as in 'OK, take care,' like telling him have a good one, ya know? That's the same way you get 'da sol' from 'that's all.' "
2. El colí: the college. "Instead of replacing a word with una palabra castellano, a proper Spanish word like 'universidad,' people will appropriate an English word but give it their own accent. So 'Miami Dade College' is 'Mayamidei Colí.' "
1. Estick: Steve. "This is the true story of how the band Palo! got its name. In Spanish, 'palo' means 'stick,' but it has deeper meanings because there's a religion called Palo, so people assume it has that significance to us. The true story is that early in my career, I was playing keyboard in a nightclub, and as I'm walking in, this viejito, an older Cuban gentleman, asks me: '¿Cómo tu te llama?' ('What's your name?') I tell him 'Steve,' and he makes a face like he don't understand. I clearly repeat 'Steve,' and he tilts his head sideways. So then I say, "Cómo Esteban pero en inglés." And he goes, '!Estíc!' as if he's correcting me, and I laughed. And ever since then, I called the band Palo! Now, when I'm walking in Little Havana and I hear 'Oye, Palo!' from the other side of the street, I just think it's so cool."
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