A pair of young women studying at the University of Southern California produced a video that’s managed to surprise everyone on campus, including the two producers themselves.
Barbara Estrada and Taylor Villanueva published a short video last Thursday that explored the similarities between the Spanish and Arabic languages that has now been seen more than 12 million times on Facebook.
In the video, a Spanish speaker and an Arabic speaker are asked to say a certain word, like blouse or shirt, at the same time. They grow increasingly surprised as they learn how stunningly similar many words are. The first example compares the word blouse— in Spanish it’s blusa, AND in Arabic it's bloosa. Another is pants—in Spanish it’s pantalones, AND in Arabic it’s bantalon.
The two juniors, who study broadcast and digital journalism, made the video look simple, but it’s a product of multiple cultures working together to start conversations. Estrada is Cuban-American and grew up in Miami. The woman seen speaking Arabic is Ethiopian and grew up in Tennessee. The Spanish speaker is Colombian and grew up in Miami. And Villanueva grew up in Los Angeles to Mexican and Lebanese parents.
“I just wanted to open people’s minds to help them realize that the two cultures aren’t that different,” said Villanueva, 21. “I’ve grown up seeing the similarities between the two cultures and I wanted other people to see it, too.”
The video cites historians who say Arabic influence in the Spanish language dates back as early as 711 when a nomadic people recognized as The Moors invaded Spain. Arab leadership in the Iberian Peninsula ended in 1492.
Estrada said she was interested in producing this video after she realized she could understand some of the words her roommates would use when they spoke to their parents in Arabic.
At one point, a skeptical faculty advisor suggested the video didn’t have a strong concept, the producers recalled. But it’s now been seen more times than any other video on the university's eight-year-old YouTube page.
“The biggest lesson out of this whole experience is to trust your gut. If you believe in something the idea will fall into place,” said Estrada. She added that the video going viral had strengthened her commitment to one day being hosting her own TV talk show like her role models Oprah Winfrey and the Cuban-born American journalist Cristina Saralegui.
“I just want to inform the uninformed,” said Estrada.
USC claims one of the most diverse student bodies of any private university in the nation. White students make up 34% of the fall 2015 student body. Asians make up 18%, Latinos 13%, black and African American students 5%, and international students 24%.
The video was released just days ahead of Donald Trump’s appearance as the host of Saturday Night Live. Trump appeared on SNL despite calls for his removal because of comments he made earlier this year referring to Mexicans as rapists and drug dealers.
Villanueva said she hopes the video reminds viewers that “everyone should be treated with dignity.”
“It’s hard for me to consider myself American but also see certain ethnicities and cultures targeted in the media all the time,” said Villanueva.
Estrada and Villanueva are part of the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. They created the video for one the school's online media publications.