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Conversation with Diego Argueta of Guanaco To English

On Patreon earlier this week we had the great pleasure of talking with Diego Argueta, the creator of the Salvadoran dictionary Guanaco To English. Diego shared his thoughts on inspiration, putting the Salvadoran culture in a good light, and what he hopes to accomplish with Guanaco To English.

Below is a portion of our conversation wit Diego.

SA: Tell me a little bit about you. I’ve read about Guanaco To English but I feel like you’ve been in the background.

DA: Yes, that’s on purpose. I want Humberto Perez, the fictional character to be at center stage, in the spotlight, the main character and Diego Argueta as the creator, as you said, very low key. For interviews like this, I have to show up but in social media it’s always Humberto Perez. He is the main star of Guanaco To English.

SA: This is such a creative thing you’ve done here with Guanaco To English. It’s funny, but it’s also based on cultural things and identity. Were you always curious about these types of things? Were you a funny kid? Were you a curious kid?

DA: I’ve always had this inspiration. I’ve always been a fan of cartoons. I’ve always had this love for animation. The stories being told through illustrations and through books. Growing up I was a fan of Dr. Seuss, The Muppets, Sesame Street, Cartoon Network. So I always believed that things that might seem childish, when they have a core, heart and a purpose, they can communicate even better than things that seem like they’re for adults. I’m a big fan of storytelling and how stories can connect people. I’ve been connecting Salvadoran culture with other cultures through Guanaco to English. Through storytelling. Through a character that believes in El Salvador. Through a character that believes beyond the bad news, the reputation that our country has, El Salvador is worth it.

Visit guanacotoenglish.com to order a copy of Guanco To English

SA: Have you seen a response from the diaspora with Guanaco To English? If so, what has it been?

DA: Yeah, and it’s been an unexpected response. When I created this I was in college. 10 years ago, when I created Guanaco To English, but I never publicly exposed it until 2019. When I created this I had this vision for tourism. So when tourists came to El Salvador they could explore a little bit of our country through this dictionary. That was my main goal. Kind of an introduction to El Salvador. When I started with the page on Instagram, which was my first platform in January 2019, this community started to grow and grow each week, and it has been growing. The diaspora, as you said, has been a very shocking, unexpected but pleasant surprise for me. Perhaps I was being naïve by just creating this for Salvadorans in El Salvador and for tourists but then the bomb exploded. Suddenly I had messages from people in Los Angeles, New York, in Texas, all over the world. Even one Salvadoran in Japan which is the most shocking for me.

SA: Could you tell us the story of how you got the idea for Guanaco To English?

DA: Before the aha moment, there were a couple of things that motivated me. It’s easy to have a misconception of a country. You look at the news and see violence, corruption, but there’s more than bad news. So I started thinking, what can I do as a graphic designer? What can I do for my country to be seen in another way? The way we see it as Salvadorans. Then I had an assignment in college where I had to design a book. Besides the cartoons, It always made me laugh how redundant and elaborate the dictionary was. I don’t know, those sophisticated things always made me laugh. So I wanted to create a satire version of a dictionary. I knew what I wanted to do but not how and why. Then later that week I had this meeting with friends and we were talking and then i said, “wow, we hablamos paja” We are a funny culture. We have a funny vocabulary. Some words I’ve never heard in another cultures but you’ll understand if you’re Salvadoran. I thought of the dictionary and I started to write all the words I knew we as Salvadorans have.

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