Romney’s “Papaya Monologues:” When English Media Outlets Become Language Experts, It Only Leads to Failure

Aug 15, 2012
12:40 PM

So it appears that the political distractions will continue. Now the US English-language media has started ripping up a story that Governor Mitt Romney shows a preference for vaginas because he was on a Spanish-speaking radio show in Miami and said that "mangoes, papayas, and mangoes" are his favorite kinds of  Cuban fruits. Granted, the translator and the host on the show laughed before translating what Romney said WITHOUT saying "papaya."

The result has been a feeding frenzy of dumbness.

From Mediate to Salon to NyMag to Jezebel, there is now this shocking revelation that Romney told the mostly Cuban exile listeners of Ramdio Mambí in Miami that he likes vaginas because to some Cubans (but not all), that is what a papaya means. But as our friends at Univision News said said (yes, the one outlet that actually might have a clue about cultural knowledge in this specific story), this is all pretty silly because in the end, Romney doesn't speak Spanish.

What everyone is failing to recognize is that Romney's original answer was what politicians do. They pander. All of them. If Romney were in say, Wisconsin, and he were asked what his favorite foods were, he would said cheese and brats. Or if he were in Texas, he would be chomping on some barbeque. And so forth. In this case, the answer got lost in translation. No biggie. But in the desire to distract people, this is what online media does.

The failure of this non-story is not only its irrelevance, but the fact that when it goes national, it might perplex many Latinos. For example, to other Spanish-speaking ears, such a comment by Romney would have been seen as innocent but to now say he tells the Cuban exile population that he likes vaginas is ridiculous. For example, does NYC's Papaya King now have to change its name? 

Now what WOULD have made sense in this story is that in this day and age, a candidate ALWAYS needs to knows his or her audience. If Romney's campaign knew that the question was coming and if they wanted to be safe, they could have asked themselves the following question: "Ok, our candidate's answers are going to be translated into Spanish. Is there anything he will say that won't translate well?"  That type of thinking is what is lacking in many political campaigns right now, as they try to confront a country that is become more Spanish-speaking. In the meantime, to the English language media, leave the cultural analysis to the outlets that actually understand the nuances of biculturalism in political campaigns and focus on the other issues that you understand?

One of our readers said it best when we posted the original story from another source:

I agree this is a trivial story; however, it demonstrates Romeny’s (like most politicians’) inability to see the diversity of the latino community. Just because papaya “polled” well doesn’t mean that you can go around flaunting the word at any latino/latina and except political support. ¡Nuestra comunidad no es homogénea!

That is the issue here. Don't be a papaya and just say something to gain political points. Instead, understand the context of how your message is literally being translated in some instances and be prepared for it.