The importance of the exploration of language is not lost on linguists and rhetoricians, but it’s not a topic that we see racking up views on the internet—unless it’s those Buzzfeed videos that are more poking fun than anything else. But Holly Tuggy A.K.A Super Holly, has taken a different approach to teaching people about the Spanish Language, as well as the beauty of being bilingual. This self described “Gringa” has taken her love of Español and Mexican culture to her YouTube channel where she discusses what it’s like being “ni de aquí, ni de alla.”
She teaches English & Spanish classes, does story times, DIYs, tutorials, and interesting reviews. Although, she makes fun of herself for not being Latina, you wouldn’t know it by hearing her speak. With her booming laugh and perfect command of Spanish idioms and Mexican colloquialisms, she’s captivated viewers from all over the world, racking up a whopping 1 million subscribers and over 45 million views in the last four years. Outwardly it would seem that she’s taken the role of ally seriously, but her story is a little more complicated than simply being a cool Gringa speaking Spanish on the internet.
Unlike the generally offensive depictions of Latinos we tend to see coming from los gringos (Google “Cinco De Mayo Party”), Tuggy’s interaction with Mexican culture is more than tacos, sombreros, and vacations in Cabo—it’s a part of her identity. Tuggy was born in Charlotte, North Carolina but spent her whole life moving back and forth between Veracruz, Puebla, Oaxaca and Tucson, Arizona. She did middle school in the US and High School and part of college in Mexico, but first moved to San Juan Del Rio with her parents and four older siblings when she was 7.
She had to go through a familiar scary, frustrating integration process many Latinos face when they move to the US. As a way to address and explain the “what are you” questions people undoubtedly have when someone is different, Tuggy did a series of videos about what it was like integrating into her new environment and moving between two cultures.
“I sat down and told a few stories and just kind of explained why I am who I am and why I appreciate both cultures and why I feel like I’m a part of both in many ways,” she tells HipLatina. She says the reception was incredible and unexpected. Her video “A Gringa in Mexico” got over 3 million views.
“Something that made me so happy was to help people realize how much we have in common and just to see that an immigrant from here going down there or from down there coming up here, we go through a lot of the same things.” She said. “Everyone wants to feel like they belong and everyone who has moved from a new place and has to adapt to a new culture and learn a new language is going to go through those moments when they feel like a total alien! And it’s not fun! But those things make us so much more empathetic to others who are going through it and I’m just super grateful for the experience.”
Tuggy says she gets her love of language from her father, a linguist who spent his life studying Nahuatl, so it was only natural that she started her career as a Spanish Radio host. It’s something she says was a great experience but it was also something that left her feeling exhausted.
“After eight years of [radio] I felt a little burnt out mostly because of the six days a week and having charisma—I’m sorry but it’s not that easy” she chuckled. “So basically at that point I jumped into advertising.” With the encouragement of her then boyfriend, now husband, she started working her way up again. But it was the combination of her radio and advertising experience along with her love of words that drove her to create and publish her own videos.
“Mexico has always been such a part of my life and the Spanish language and so I decided: What if every project that I share—what if I do it one video in English and one in Spanish? So I can use some of the same footage but I would do the voice over in both languages. Slowly but surely the Spanish ones took off.”
And it seems that they haven’t stopped taking off, in January Tuggy made the jump to full time YouTuber and she says it’s been an incredible experience simply because of the impact she is somewhat unintentionally making in the way people understand language and also each other.
“I’ve read many comments where people say this misconception about Americans and you’ve helped me see that it’s not that way and that I was being judgmental and vice versa. I’ve had this misconception about Mexicans and Latinos and thank you for opening my eyes. I love that, when I read those comments it’s like my work is done here. Well my work is never done but I’m on the right track” she said with a laugh.
As the debate about language in the U.S. reaches critical status, it seems like everyday we’re confronted with another story about how Latinos and other multilingual POC in the US are being harassed for speaking anything other than English. We see it in citizens being questioned by ICE for speaking Spanish, we see it in people being kicked off airplanes for speaking Arabic, we see it in the Baltimore Dunkin Doughnuts that asked customers to snitch on workers for speaking Spanish in exchange for free food. The reality is these actions aren’t against Spanish per se as much as they are against the Brown skinned people who speak it. It’s something Tuggy says she plans to address more publicly as a part of the evolution of her channel but also as the political discourse becomes more threatening toward Latinos.
“I definitely want to be bold and tackle some topics I’ve been hesitant to tackle cuz they’re a little more controversial and talk about things that are happening in this country that I really dislike and that I would like to change and to really spread that message of unity in a bolder way.”
For more modismos, chismes, and historias you can subscribe to @SuperHolly’s channel here.