Friday, August 7, 2009


rancho: shack - generally not ranch!!

While on the topic, here is another dangerous false cognate. Ranch in English implies something totally different, with lots of land, and Bush chopping wood, or Reagan on his horse. Certainly not an informal self-made simple dwelling, which in my experience is what is generally meant, in a variety of Latin American countries. I don't love the word shack, since it can have negative connotations and implies a more ramshackle dwelling that rancho necessarily does. Yet the reclaiming of the term being done by shack/ slum dwellers international makes me more comfortable with it. I also haven't come up with anything better. Cabin is certainly no good as now it tends to imply something more like a second home. 'Informal housing' is a much higher register. Humble home sounds cutesy.

Wiki defines a particular way of building ranchos in the southern cone

But in my experience it could be any type of building. Could be just cardboard and tin. Could be stone walls. Could be adobe. Could even be cement and wood, but very simple, humble. An english ranch would be a finca.

Kudos to Latin Pulse for subtitling the below episode of Contravia, some of the only (and very brave) independent journalism in Colombia. I include it here with the excuse that the word rancho comes up several times, as folks are showing us their homes that have been bombed. Could you move back into your home and rebuild it (yourself) if it had been bombed? Or would it be too freaky? Could you ever feel safe there again?

(ojo: the subtitles render cabildo as town council, but it's indigenous council (in the US the term would be tribal council), which here changes the story a bit)


John Pluecker said...

hi sara,

i guess you're talking about a colombian context? in the southwest us and in mexico, rancho is a reference to the small town or pueblo or village or ranch where one is (personally or ancestrally) from. today, we packed up a pickup truck with stuff in san antonio and all the neighbors in the barrio were asking, "Van al rancho?" they wanted to know if we were headed back to mexico to our rancho (our little town, our homestead, our house there, our ranch, our little farm).

just thought i'd add another sentido al rancho.

abrazos desde aztlán,


Sara Koopman said...

Pos no se guey, ahora tu rancho es todo el pueblo? te hiciste asi de grande en los unay? pos guey, tu rancho no es la casa que le hiciste a tu madre? Y la que se construyo tu hermana al lado? Y la de tu primo atras? Y la palapa en medio donde comen? O sea, pues ese pedazo del pueblo que es de tu familia, pues bueno, guey, si, esta bien - pero todo el pueblo? Seriously, estan regresando al rancho I would probably render, yes, as going back to your hometown, because that would be the cultural equivalent - but I think that it's usually referring more to the specific houses - homestead as you put it, but really, not usually a ranch in the gringo sense (which implies huge tracts of land and cattle), but much more humble - though perhaps not what you think of a shack - I'm not loving that shack solution and would love other suggestions. A rancho might be a group of humble houses, all made out of cement. Even if it's for one family, it's often several simple buildings built near each other, one for cooking, one for sleeping, one for storing the panela when the trapiche is working, etc. Just saw the movie Rudo y Cursi - the group of houses they lived in at the beginning is a perfect example. I thought the subtitlers butchered it by rendering it as ranch. I loved though that they rendered guey a million different ways - dude, yo, man, bro, bud, fag, etc.

John Pluecker said...

i like hometown. but i also think rancho is used so much down here that a lot of people just say ranch in english and they mean rancho. like the meaning of the word ranch has just changed. pues ya sabes, así es el espanglés, si no existe una palabra, no más se inventa una. pos tampoco sé guey, pero lo que sí sé es que si hablo con un colombiano tengo que entender que es una palabra bastante distinta.

Dan Feder said...

Yes, my impression was always that Mexico uses "rancho" very similarly to the US meaning, while in South America it is as Sara says. In Colombia at least, rancho I think suggests more than anything a very poor house, possibly translatable as "shack" in some contexts.