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  • Daniel Santacruz

Youtube channel wants to make Ladino accessible to beginners

By Daniel Santacruz

A Spaniard is the moving force behind the most recent effort to make Ladino accessible to beginners and veterans on Youtube. But what is most surprising about Carlos Yebra 

Lopez, 30, is that he is not Sefardic or even Jewish. He is not interested in becoming Jewish or in religion either.

Born in Saragossa, northern Spain, he has been a PhD student in the New York University Spanish and Portuguese Department since 2015. As part of the doctoral program, he 

has taught modern Spanish, and lectured about Spanish literature and the history of moral philosophy.

Linguist Carlos Yebra Lopez.
Carlos Yebra Lopez (Courtesy).

Although he has not taught Judeo-Spanish, also known as Ladino o Judezmo, there, he has written articles about it for several journals.

He has a knack for languages, and in addition to Spanish and Judeo-Spanish, he is fluent in English, Catalan, Portuguese, Italian and French. He speaks German and Serbian at an intermediate level, and reads Arabic.

KS: What is the goal of Ladino 21?

CYL: Our goal is, on one hand, to document how Ladino is spoken in the twenty-first century and, on the other, to show that the Sefardic language and the Sefardic culture are not a thing of the past, but something that is still alive today, continually changing and evolving in each century. We live in the twenty-first century and hence the name “Ladino 21.”

It’s important to take this into account because, unfortunately, when Muslim and Jewish cultures are studied in Spain it’s almost always from a nostalgic standpoint, that is, looking at the past like something detached from contemporary Spain. We created Ladino 21 with the idea that this approach is not accurate at all.

KS: When was Ladino 21 born and why?

CYL: The project was launched at the beginning of 2017 and the idea was conceived by my haver and friend Alejandro Acero. We thought it would be interesting to show that Judeo-Spanish is still spoken in the world because many are not aware of this language or think that it is not spoken anymore or never heard it.

KS: How do you obtain the material for the site (plays, songs, interviews)?

CYL: That part of our job is difficult but at the same time interesting. Sometimes people send in materials, but normally we look for events in Judeo-Spanish or people who speak it in the cities where we live or in the countries we visit. That takes a lot of time and is not always easy, but we do as much as we can and we have a good time and learn in the process.

KS: How many videos are there in Ladino 21?

CYL: Right now, close to 50. We upload a new video each week.

KS: In how many countries are the videos seen?

CYL: According to our count, in many countries, mainly in Israel, Spain, United States, France and the United Kingdom.

KS: Is the future of Ladino only in social media?

CYL: Of course not. But little by little the Internet became the most important medium to preserve and foster the language. A clear example is Ladinokomunita, but there are several pages in Chehrechitab/ChCh (Fabook) as well as in Youtube, Memrise, Whatsapp groups and others. Thus, it is necessary to continue working to disseminate Ladino in social media. For example, Judezmo still is not an option in Google Translate or Duolingo.

KS: You want to save Ladino in Ladino. Do your viewers reply in Ladino? How do you know if you are successful?

CYL: At some point I may have used the expression “to save Ladino,” but I do not like it. When someone talks like that, for example, when the Spanish government addresses Sefardim, it makes me wonder about their true intentions. It can be due to the fact that historically we must not forget that solidarity and brotherhood among peoples were, and still are, the excuse for many colonial enterprises and dark personal ambitions. [Maite] Ojeda-Mata explains it very well in her recent book Modern Spain and the Sephardim: Legitimizing Identities (Rowman and Littlefield, 1917).

To answer your question, we want to promote the language in Ladino because we believe that the best form to preserve a language is by using it. There are many articles about Ladino, but most are not in Ladino, which is a pity.

On the other hand, some write their comments in the comments part of the video as well as our Facebook page. A way to measure the success of the Ladino 21 channel is to see the number of students that signed up for a course of Judeo-Spanish that I prepared for 

The instructions to sign up can be found here: The success of our project can also be seen in the comments to the videos, most of which are very positive and [the viewers] thank us for our work. It is very exciting for us to read those messages.

KS: What is the role of Benny Aguado and Alejandro Acero?

CYL: Up to now I have done most of the work in Ladino 21, but the success of the channel is also due to the amazing work of the two of them. First of all, as I said, the original idea for the project was Alejandro’s.

At the beginning, Benny served as an inspiration. He used to tell stories of his childhood and we wanted to make the Sephardic language known, so we thought it would be a good idea to join forces with him. One of the Djoha [a folk character] stories he told had more than a thousand hits! At the moment only Alejandro and I are working on the project, but we are uploading more videos than ever.

Logo of Ladino 21, a Ladino Youtube channel.
Logo of Ladino 21.

KS: You are not Jewish. Why your interest in Ladino?

CYL: I have been asked that question many times. Yes, I am not Jewish, and I was never interested in being Jewish. I am not religious.

I was born in Saragossa, but I haven’t lived there in a long time and in several countries I learned many languages that have words in common with judeo-Spanish (French, Serbian, Portuguese) and saw that my Spanish changed upon learning them. Besides, to me being Spanish is less a trophy than a wound. From a historical point of view, a small part of that wound is Sefardic.

KS: Where did you learn Ladino?

CYL: I learned it in Ladinokomunita and perfected it thanks to Benny Aguado. I learned solitreo [cursive] and Rashi [script] as well. I thank him a lot for this tireless effort, which he always did for free.

KS: How long have you been teaching at New York University?

CYL: I have been a PhD student in the Spanish and Portuguese Department since 2015. As part of the doctoral program, the students have the opportunity to teach some courses. On two occasions I taught modern Spanish and lectured about Spanish literature too. I lectured in English about the history of moral philosophy. I did not teach Judeo-Spanish there, but I wrote several articles about it.

© Daniel Santacruz

January 2019

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