Published On: Sun, Aug 16th, 2015

Where In The World Is The Ñ?

You can find Project Enye (ñ) on Twitter. @Projectenye.

That’s Project Enye. As in, enye—the exact pronunciation of the letter Ñ. If you search us out on Twitter, you can find us either way: with or without the Ñ. But in order to be seen and to represent the Ñ as best we could, we had to spell out our name.

Why? Well…call it a linguistic quirk. To its credit, Twitter allows its users in the United States to use Ñ in its search terms, hashtags, and page descriptions. In the description of our project on our Twitter page, you can find our full name: Project Enye (ñ). Mexicans in the U.S. and Mexico can search out Enrique #PeñaNieto and dialogue about their politics, as can Puertorriqueños on the island and stateside. (We have much to discuss.)

If you speak Spanish, you are visible on every corner of Twitter, except in one place: your Twitter handle. More on that front in a bit.

Why the fuss over one letter? Why do we care about this one simple quirk of language?

A U.S.-born Latin@ with at least one parent from a Latin American country—an Enye, as we call them—knows something about linguistic quirks.

Whether we Are fluent or just know a few (1)

There’s no such thing as a pina colada. Neither do we fight our ninos to take their banos before bed. But a baño before bed for the niños who have school mañana makes all the difference in the world.

Ask a Puerto Rican man (Puertorriqueño), or a Costa Rican (Costarriquense), a Honduran woman (hondureña), or anyone named Peña, about linguistic nuance, the letter Ñ, and what names mean, and you’ll have a lively debate on your hands.

There’s a difference between soñar (Spanish, “to dream”), SONAR (English acronym: SOund Navigation And Ranging,), and sonar (Spanish, “to make noise”). A dreamer in Spanish is a soñador(a). Ask a Latino about the Dream Act in Spanish, and you’ll have to ask about El Acto del Sueño.

You might feel pena in Spanish (pain) for someone who’s doing badly in life. You might feel Tony Peña is one of the greatest catchers in Major League Baseball history. You won’t use the two words interchangeably.

And on December 31st, you’d be a good ally if you wished your Latin@ friends a Feliz Año Nuevo. But if you wish them a Feliz Ano Nuevo, you’ve wished them all a happy new anus, and no one will invite you back on New Year’s Eve.

That simple quirk (okay, it’s not that simple) is the Ñ. Which, by the way, is not the letter N. They’re definitely related: historically, the Ñ replaced the double N (NN) in countries where Classical Latin became Spanish. Put simply, we speakers of Spanish needed to be able to communicate place names and proper names clearly; we needed to be understood. The Ñ made things clear for the keepers of the Spanish language. Today, a noun with an Ñ has its own history, representing a particular place, person, thing, or idea. And a verb with an Ñ represents a specific action or state of being. When the ñ is substituted for the n, words like cariño, mañana, jalapeño, and countless others become muddled and disappear. In the Spanish language, the Ñ is indispensable for clear communication.

Likewise, we Enyes living in the United States are indispensable. We are steeped in our own personal histories. We occupy every socioeconomic status, our purchasing power is growing, and we vote in large numbers. We are the single-fastest growing segment of the U.S. population, in every state in which we live. Yet as complex as we are, we don’t often find complex stories about ourselves on television or in the movies. Our families and communities are reduced to simple terms in the larger U.S. economic and cultural narrative. And unscrupulous billionaire Presidential candidates get to demonize us for political points. But make no mistake: without the Enyes of this nation, the American story is incomplete. The economy, the culture, the politics, day-to-day life in every American city—all of these would be drastically different without us.

Knowing each other in our proper languages, with the proper pronunciation, is the first and best way to show respect for each other and our traditions, in this nation, on this continent. It is how, as Latin@s, we remain visible in a society that often renders us invisible.

And we Enyes code switch: we make noise from English to Spanish and back, seamlessly. We can’t sonar in Spanish, if we can’t soñar in Spanish. It starts with the use of one simple letter. The Ñ means clear communication, in a multinational community of bilingual communicators. We also believe the Ñ means visibility, the cultivating of community, and empathy for other cultures.

Hence our name: Project Enye (ñ). We are the U.S.-born Latin@s who are integral to the American story. We are speaking across several platforms on identity, immigration, assimilation, and family. You will see us in film. You will read our essays and poems and stories. You will watch us create art, impact communities, deepen and change dialogues. The goal is for everyone who connects with us, regardless of his or her origin, to understand themselves in a greater and more inclusive national context, free of cheap and easy divisions based on language or ethnicity.

Whether we Are fluent or just know a few (2)


Here’s the thing: We actually can’t use the ñ in our handle. Neither can you. Not yet, anyway. (Hi, Twitter! #CanWeTalk?)

Imagine if other companies and organizations had to operate this way. Three Em? Tee Mobile? Gee Em? Aitch Bee Oh? The En Double-Ay See Pee? Confusing, to say the least.

We believe our histories start with our names. What happens when Denise Soler moves west from the Bronx, and finds her name moves from so-LER (with the accent on the short “e”) to SO-ler, accent on the long “o”)?  Is a song with the same lyrics and different melody still the same song? Can Rich Villar (vee-JHAR) from Paterson, New Jersey, live in the same body as Rich Villar (VILL-er) from Rockland County, New York?

We spelled out the full pronunciation of the letter in order to make our project name clear: Project Enye. That’s how much we believe in the power of names.

I am sacrificing my first born pastel!

Yes, we can describe ourselves with an Ñ. Yes, we can search the Ñ. But the Ñ and the N are considered the same letter—not just on Twitter, but all over social media.

But. They’re not the same letter. Just ask your friends on New Year’s Eve: it makes for a lot of confusion.

Imagine an online space where the Ñ was universally recognized here in the United States. Imagine a space in which names, places, ideas, even food, were recognized and spelled correctly in its language of origin. Imagine a Twitter handle like @ProjectÑ. We can!

Everyone and everything benefits: from President Enrique Peña Nieto, to a teacher in Washington Heights named Alexa Muñoz, to our niños striking piñatas on their cumpleaños, to the jalapeño in our guacamole, to the caribeños breaking bread con cariño with their compañeras all over Latin America, from la primavera to el otoño, hoy, mañana, y siempre!

We are all Enyes, and we are profoundly connected to the countries of our origin and our parents’ origins. We want the entire American family included in our conversations. It’s a matter of honor and respect. It’s a matter of clear communication. Recognizing and using the Ñ, including in Twitter handles, would facilitate a more pluralistic social media conversation, both within the United States, and among multilingual Latin@ users throughout Latin America.
The Latin@ population in the United States is not simply growing, but powerful, and vocal—a lesson Donald Trump is finding out the hard way. This could be a beginning of a revolution in the way we communicate with each other online. We would love that. But mostly, we simply want our alphabet, like our stories and our gente, to be complete.  

I join others in insisting that the letter

Join The Conversation:

Follow the #WhereInTheWorldIsTheÑ hashtag!

Where In The World Is The Ñ?