What I have learned about raising multilingual children in the U.S. as a Chicana

I started this journey, this goal of wanting my children to be bilingual by reading books about bilingual parenting. None of the authors looked and sounded like me and none were born and raised in the U.S. like myself. If they were, they usually were not Chicana. My obsession in making sure my children knew Spanish was not because I wanted them to have a global or economic edge. I didn’t even necessarily want them to be “able to speak to more or other people.” I wanted my children to speak Spanish because my parents were asked to not speak it when they first entered public schools in this country. My intent in raising bilingual children was a form of resistance and healing for what my parents and countless of other Mexicano immigrants like my family had endured.

The strategies I read about didn’t quite fit with how I grew up nor who I am as a bilingual. At the same time,  the deeper I delved in my Ph.D. in bilingual education while also  raising my children I realized that U.S. born and raised Mexicanxs/Chicanx communities like myself draw from our own unique sets of bilingual strategies. Some of these include the following:

  1. Speaking Spanish as a form of Resistance! For example, if you notice that others seem a little uncomfortable with your Spanish, then, maybe you speak a little louder in Spanish. This has happened to me countless of times and usually in a grocery line.
  2. Speaking Spanish as a Right: This strategy is similar to the one above, but perhaps you choose to simply keep speaking Spanish despite others being uncomfortable. My Spanish was once corrected (in English) by a cashier at a bakery. I took this as an opportunity to politely remind the cashier that I can speak however I’d like as it is my Spanish. At the same time, I modeled for my daughters (yes, he corrected me in front of my children–society doing its part in bringing Spanish down) how to stand up and protect their Spanish.
  3. When you promote your culture, children are more invested in speaking Spanish: One thing we do every year is set up an alter for the day of the dead. This is a great opportunity to share with my daughters about their ancestors and family who have past (all of them happen to be Mexican).
  4. We NEVER speak badly or make fun of Spanish (or Mandarin, but that’s a different blog post): We treat Spanish like a very special guest in our home who deserves all the respect in the world. We only uplift Spanish and say wonderful things about it because society does a “great” job bringing the language down as it is.
  5. English does not live with us: Sure English makes its presence (similar to a tidal wave actually) but we ask it to leave, we ignore it, and sometimes even though we use it we don’t give it a single ounce of love. It’s just kind of there. Society does a fantastic job boosting its ego so we do not worry about English in the slightest. EVER.
  6. Spanish is love: I am constantly sharing with my daughters how Spanish is our language. I remind them that not all Latinx people speak Spanish, but they are still Latinx. I share that it is part of who we are as Latinx people and that is why I love speaking Spanish with them.
  7. Spanish is who we are: If it is not part of who you are or your family’s past it is very hard, I would argue impossible to pull off. We happen to love music in Spanish from different countries, watch TV and movies in Spanish or from Spanish speaking countries, and  read in Spanish. Our family members and friends know Spanish. All of this helps in children’s investment in  speaking Spanish.
  8. Language Awareness: Just like parents are advised to develop print awareness in  young children, I believe in developing language awareness. I am always sharing with my daughters which friends speak Spanish and make an effort to make sure their doctors speak Spanish as well. I don’t necessarily ask them to speak to them in Spanish, I simply let them know that specific individuals know Spanish so that they can choose to speak it with them or not.  This language awareness has helped in getting my daughter to recognize words in Spanish in society such as actual print media, etc.

This are just a few strategies I have learned about raising 3rd generation bilinguals in a city that mostly speaks English (at least the places and spaces I go to). I’ve also been fortunate enough to be able to send my children to summer camps in Spanish, Spanish immersion daycares, and live in Ecuador. These experiences certainly boosted their investment in speaking Spanish, but I remind people that the actual work in raising them bilingually started in our home. I’ve had people say to me, “Oh, it’s cause you lived abroad and they went to a Spanish immersion school. That’s why they speak Spanish.” Yes, they did and it was a boost, BUT Marcus and I taught them Spanish. This journey started before they were born and we have made a HUGE concerted effort to expose them to our variations of Spanish (as we have different ones).

I have written similar posts in the past (as a form of an update) about our bilingual journey. I love to write (it’s really cathartic) and share our journey in order to inspire other Latinx or Chicanx parents. I have met numerous people from Chicanx or Latinx baungrounds hesitant in their ability to raise  bilingual children and it is for them (para nuestra comunidad) that I continue to share our journey. Si se puede!

Lastly, Spanish was a gift we gave our daughters and one I hope will stay with them for a life time.

 

 

 

Children’s Book Review: My Papi has a Motorcycle by Isabel Quintero


A CHILDREN’S BOOK THAT HONORS CHICANX STUDENTS CULTURAL AND LINGUISTIC HERITAGE

It was an honor to write a blog post promoting Isabel Quintero’s bookMy Papi Has a Motorcycle, for many reasons, but one of them is because I also grew up in Southern California. The illustrations, Zeke Peña, created resonated with me because they reflected store icons, like the panadería, and murals, like the one about migrant workers marching for justicia, that I grew up seeing in my hometown of Santa Ana, CA. This multicultural and multilingual book, Mi Papi tiene una motocicleta (also available in Spanish) offers readers a description of the rich linguistic and cultural background of a little girl, Daisy Ramona, and her father cruising through their (gentrifying) neighborhood.

The book starts off with Daisy describing her Papí and the kind of construction work he does, but also his love for motorcycles. The misconception that exists in our nation that bilingual and Latinx students “do not have the vocabulary they need to succeed in school” is problematized with Daisy explaining, “From [my Papí] I’ve learned words like carburetor and cariño, drill, and dedication.” Teachers could use this as a way to start a conversation with students about the kind of work their parents do. By inviting parents into the classroom to share about their (cultural) funds of knowledge (Moll, 2005) related to their occupation or their culture teachers validate students backgrounds and place value on the knowledge their parents share with them.

As a scholar and practitioner of bilingual education, this is also an ideal book to talk about gentrification and the implications it can have on communities of color. For example, the closing of the raspados (shaved ice) shop and the construction of new homes are both signs that a neighborhood is changing. Gentrification is the notion that by changing a neighborhood to reflect “White and middle class” norms, it is also perceived as an “improvement” to the existing community. Daisy gives readers a different perspective about her beloved community. The author and the illustrator do a wonderful job portraying what Daisy values about her unique barrio: the people who live there! Educators could also discuss the shops that are reflected in the book such as the tortillería, panadería,and the raspados y carnecería. These are iconic neighborhood stores in traditionally Mexican communities in the U.S. where pan dulce (sweet bread), tortillas, and raspados (shaved ice), and meat are sold.

Teachers could also use this book as an opportunity to invite other languages, like Spanish, into the classroom. Daisy is bilingual and draws from her linguistic repertoire to share about her Latinx friends, family and the community they live in Southern California. In fact, the use of Spanish and English is woven throughout the book in a way that elevates the status of Spanish, which is crucial especially in the U.S. context. Quintero literally placed Spanish above English when translated. Quintero also, at times, leaves out the English translation because it simply is not necessary, or perhaps she wrote the book with bilingual children in mind who do not need translations. Most importantly, Quintero uses Spanish and English in, what I like to think of as the authentic ways individuals from bilingual communities speak. For example, Daisy’s Papí asks a co-worker in Spanish, “Trabajando duro, muchachos?” and the co-worker responds in English, “A little bit, not too much.” They are using different languages, but understand one another and do not need to translate: linguistic brilliance.

I do hope all readers enjoy this book and are able to see it as either mirroring their own community or a window into another community and as an opportunity to learn about people who may be different than themselves. Lastly, my favorite part about this book was that it illustrated people of color doing everyday things in life and just being themselves. Those kind of high quality books about people of color are hard to come by! Isabel and Zeke, thank you for sharing such a beautiful story! I fell in love with it!