You can learn Spanish, but you will never get our culture.

Speaking Spanish for us does not begin at 7:45 am and end at 2:57 pm. Speaking Spanish for us is NOT “a lesson.” It’s not a “time period.” It’s not a temporary thing. Spanish isn’t something that happens out of coincidence. I wouldn’t even say that it’s how we “naturally” communicate.

Spanish for us is a right. Spanish for us is reclaiming what was practically lost. Spanish for us is life. It heals our identity and colonized past. Spanish is something we live, breathe, and are constantly trying to revive. Spanish is a memory that I am always and forever trying to hold on to in positive ways. Spanish is how we survive and pass down our Latinx culture.

You can learn Spanish, but you will never get our culture. You see, our culture isn’t something you can teach. It has to be a part of your everyday, your past and present, and in your blood.

This is what it is like when you live your life in a dual language program that has been gentrified. It can be like a constant reminder that “the colonizer” is ever present. So, what do we do? We hold on tight and speak Spanish proudly and loudly despite the dominance of English. #bilingualVIDA

Why I chose to become a Mexican National.

On the day I became a Mexican National, December 15, 2017, I was filled excitement and like a piece of my heart was beginning to heal. I, of course, posted it on Facebook and got many congratulations. I knew that some people may not find my decision to become a Mexican National as making a lot or any sense. In fact, I was asked, “What is the point? How does it benefit you?”

I cannot help but note that I hardly think I would get the same response IF the dual citizenship was with a more “elitist,” perhaps more Eurocentric, country. For me, as a Chicana, Mexican-American, some would even say, Pocha, becoming a Mexican National was very symbolic. This decision is the same reason I decided to raise my daughters with Spanish. It is a very political and deliberate move to fight back against oppression. It is my way of bridging the two worlds I have straddled my entire life: Spanish and English speaker, American and Mexican. It makes my hyphenated identity official. In my heart it was always official, but now I have a symbolic and tangible representation of its significance in my heart, mind and soul.

In many ways, I no longer have to justify to others how and why I AM MEXICAN and how and why I am ALSO “American.” I can simply say, “I am both. I am both an “American” and Mexican citizen.”

Punto y ya.

 

 

Latinx Community Raising Bilingual Children

Ever since I decided to raise my daughters in a bilingual world I knew that I didn’t fit the profile of the many “how to raise a bilingual child”  books I was reading. First, the “one parent one language” (OPOL) method wasn’t a right fit because both my husband and I are bilingual. The “minority language at home”(M@LH) method also did not fit because it is simply not how we identify as bilinguals. I decided to draw from a second language acquisition theory referred to as input/output theory. My main goal was to expose my daughter to as much Spanish as possible. The only challenge was that my husband and I spoke to each other in English–not exactly the OPOL or MLH method. For us it looked more like–English  to each other, Spanish with our daughter– ~100% of the time. What ended up happening? The first 2 1/2 years of her life she was Spanish-dominant.

During this time I was also in graduate school pursuing a PhD in bilingual/bicultural education. It was through that experience that I began to change my approach as to how I, a bilingual Latina, born and raised in the U.S., chose to expose my daughter to her heritage language, Spanish. I went from saying, “Hablame en espanol” to “Habla los dos idiomas porque eres bilingue.” What I’m trying to say is that our approach was and is different. It is a reflection of how we “do being bilingual.” The  OPOL or ML@H methods are grounded in this idea that languages should never make contact, but in reality they do. These methods are ones that are supported by the dominant group in the U.S.–a group who recently has decided to try and raise bilingual kids, too. Don’t get me wrong, this is a good thing. This is, in many ways, a bilingual dream come true. The problem I have with it is that the ways my daughter and I “do being bilingual” as members of a Latinx community are not being supported in school sanctioned zones because monolingual English-speaking students need and expect full immersion in Spanish. The second issue is that dual language programs are on the rise and many more are using a lottery system  to accept individuals. This seems like a “fair” method, but in reality it’s not. Spanish is now a product that families want for their children while Latinx families have been trying to pass down their heritage language (many times) with great difficulty because of the power English has in the U.S. If it were up to me the Latinx community would get preference in dual language programs.

Had someone told me that what I learned about bilingual education, language acquisition, language policy, etc, would look and feel so much different in practice I probably would not have believed them. I see the problem with the “preferential” treatment, but when institutional racism and privilege exists drastic thoughts surface. Unfortunately, this idea of the Lartinx community getting preferential treatment in dual language programs will( likely) never be manifested because we have a system in place that privileges those in power.

For more about this topic please read Guadalupe’s Valdes’ cautionary note.

 

 

 

Appropriating Whiteness by Accident.

I didn’t do it on purpose. I mean I may have started to enunciate my words a certain way in middle school because “the way I spoke” was commented on a few times by white peers, but I swear I didn’t seek out to appropriate a white accent or mannerisms.

I also didn’t purposely choose to “act white”. I changed the music I listened to because we moved to another city (eventually another state)  and the R&B, hip hop, and rap music I listened to which included lyrics that brought issues that mattered to my Latina heart and soul to the forefront were no longer on the radio. All I heard was what they call gangsta’ rap. The music I grew up up listening to was no longer in spaces where diverse people of color were found dancing together.

I didn’t purposely choose to live in white spaces. My mom decided to move us to another city because the one we were living in was “too dangerous” and was worried that as a single mother she would have a harder time keeping up with 3 young girls.

So we moved.

We moved from a city that valued my Latina heritage to one where the Latinxs I saw were considered “the help”.

I also didn’t pick my name, “Suzanne”. Sara and Rafael thought it was a beautiful name in the 70s and one that seemed to belong to their daughter. I didn’t know that when “Suzanne” is combined with “Mateus” that people would assume I am white. I didn’t know.

I didn’t know that because I selectively choose who to speak Spanish to that I would be considered white. I take speaking Spanish very personally because of how highly stigmatized it became for me to speak it growing up como una “pocha”. To this day, you have to earn my trust and we have to have a certain level of intimacy as friends before I will utter a single word in Spanish to you.

I didn’t know that my distance between speaking Spanish and who I choose to speak it with would deem me as “white” or “acting white”. I didn’t know.

I didn’t appropriate whiteness on purpose. It was imposed on me by issues larger than you and I. It was a form of colonialism on my own identity.

I am Bilingual or Translanguaging Practices

If you speak to me in Spanish and I respond in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If I start a sentence in Spanish and finish it in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If I can’t remember a word in Spanish, but remember it in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If you say you like my accent in Spanish, but not my accent in English it’s not because I don’t speak English well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

Translating the sense of “orderliness” in another country….

After several months of living in Guayaquil, specifically Samborondon, I have finally reached a point where I can see their sense of orderliness. It happened when I was driving down, like I do everyday, the infamous peninsula strip in Samborondon. Driving in this upper-class suburb is nothing compared to the intensity and vibration Guayaquil, the nation’s largest city, across the bridge from Samborondon offers, but, still…this is MY reality. As I was saying, I was driving back from dropping off my daughter at school and I started to see how traffic really does flow. Yea, I can “cut” people off here, honk to communicate more frequently than in the U.S., and it’s, for the most part, okay. I started to see the role traffic cops play in keeping the street moving (some would argue otherwise), how pedestrians knew when to cross the street despite the lack of a cross walk, and how everything and everyone, including myself, seemed to flow in sync. It was a pivotal point in my time here because it meant that I had assimilated or gotten used to how things work here. In fact, the first time I drove here I remember spitting out every single cuss word I knew (in English and Spanish!) and feeling a sense of bewilderment when I analyzed how in the world I was going to get through the crazy traffic congestion that presented itself in front me. All in all, if I could offer any advice to future or current drivers in Guayaquil, I would say, “Worry about what lies ahead and let those behind you figure out the rest.”

Language use, accents, and stereotypes.

In Anjelah Johnson’s “Nail Salon” comedy act, which aired on the Comedy Time network in 2007, there is a deliberate use of marked language or speech markers by a speaker from outside the group in question. In fact, mocking speakers from outside her ethnic and racial group is a common theme in many of her acts. In the act, “Nail Salon” she is, in my opinion, attracting anyone that has ever frequented a nail salon where the majority of the employees were Asian. The sociolinguistic variables this paper will focus on include: the stereotypes towards Asian speech, attitudes towards code switching, and how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways.
Johnson demonstrates a common stereotype towards Asian speech, specifically Vietnamese female manicurist speech. Having grown up in Southern California, where a large Vietnamese community resides, and also where Johnson is from; I could completely relate to her comedy act. According to Ronald Wardhaugh, “To say of a member of such a group that he or she will always exhibit a certain characteristic behavior is to offer a stereotype (p.120).” Johnson reinforces the female Asian manicurist stereotype through her use of speech markers, which include, “…social categories of sex, ethnicity, social class, and situation [which are] clearly marked on the basis of speech (p.121).” Whether or not the video attracts or repels members of targeted group, Vietnamese female manicurists or people of Vietnamese origin, is questionable. According to YouTube’s statistical information about who is viewing this specific video it is evident that the group most attracted to Johnson’s act are women between the ages of 13-54 years old.
By deliberately using the speech of a working class, Vietnamese female, in the particular context of a nail salon and as a speaker from outside the group in question Johnson is sending several messages about attitudes towards Asians in general. In particular, she is sending a message about the way Asian speakers code-switch and the attitudes associated with it when it occurs in a nail salon. Wardhaugh describes code switching as having two distinct purposes: situational and metaphorical. “Situational code-switching occurs when the languages used change according to the situations in which the conversants find themselves; they speak one language in one situation and another in a different one (p.104).”
In the case of the “Nail Salon” comedy act, Johnson exemplifies the use of metaphorical code switching. According to Wardhaugh metaphorical code-switching occurs as, “…a change of topic [which] requires a change in the language used…it has an affective dimension to it: you change the code as you redefine the situation- formal to informal, official to personal, serious to humorous, and politeness to solidarity…to show how speakers employ particular languages to convey information that goes beyond their actual words, especially to define social situations (p.104).” The particular instance where Johnson demonstrates metaphorically code-switching is when she criticizes the manicurists’ work on one of her nails. The manicurist, after some debate as to whether or not Johnson’s nail was actually flawed, decides to fix the nail, and instantly begins to code-switch with another employee. It is implied that Johnson is left wondering what Tammy, the manicurist, could possibly be saying to her fellow employee. In the middle of speaking Vietnamese, almost to cover up what was really being said, Tammy says in her heavily accented English that her fellow manicurist thinks Johnson is pretty. She was, according to Wardhaugh’s definition of metaphorical code switching, using Vietnamese and English “…to convey information that goes beyond her actual words (p.104).” In other words, Johnson does a great job of showing us how quickly the manicurist went from being “all about customer service” to extremely annoyed when Johnson critiques her work and doesn’t, for the first time in the act, give in to the manicurists requests or suggestions. This leads to the final sociolinguistic variable: how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways.
Earlier I mentioned the use of speech markers as a variable. According to Wardhaugh’s description of speech communities it is, “…through speech markers [as] functionally important social categorizations [that can be] discriminated…For humans, speech markers have clear parallels…it is evident that [these] social categories of…sex, ethnicity, social class, and situation can be clearly marked on the basis of speech… (p.121).” In the comedy act, “Nail Salon” the “female Vietnamese manicurist” is obviously from a certain social class: she is an immigrant serving American standard English-speaking individuals.
The last variable, how speakers of speech communities manage their languages in socially meaningful ways, is in my opinion a mode of survival for the manicurist. At the beginning of the act Johnson mentions how the women at the salon are all about customer service. In fact, Johnson demonstrates how good they are at getting you to purchase more services repeatedly throughout the act. The manicurist has learned how to use language in socially meaningful ways. She is constantly complimenting the customer and acting very interested in her life, which is important because Asians are known to be very modest people who don’t like to bring attentions to themselves or others, but in this act Johnson demonstrates how the Asian manicurist has learned that Americans favor an individualistic perspective and the manicurist taps into that knowledge in order to get Johnson to buy more services. In other words, there is more than one stereotype being displayed.
As a Mexican-American and Native American comedian Anjelah Johnson falls under the category of being a speaker from outside the Vietnamese community. It is interesting to note whether or not the targeted group would actually repel or be attracted to Johnson’s comedy act of “Nail Salon.” After reviewing comments the video received on YouTube I could only identify one that may have been from an Asian person given his/her name, SgtTsuki’s. He/she stated, “Gahh!! It’s so wrong to laugh and feel offended at the same time!!” I am still left wondering if people who belong to the Asian community would feel offended. Maybe some members would, such as those who speak with an Asian accent, but others who are American-born and do not speak with an Asian accent may not.

Written in 2010—in rough draft form, but worth the share.

 

My Toddler’s Bilingual Development

I have been recording (mostly on Facebook) my daughters’ bilingual development. The following conversation took place when she was 1 year and 11 months old.

Me: Sabrina, ven a comer los frijoles.
Sabrina: No, jole!
Me: Ven aquí.
Sabrina: No ven
Me: Si
Sabrina No, si!

As you can see  her words are “fragmented” and she echoed what I was saying, yet all in Spanish. It has been an amazing journey that not a single person could have described to me prior to deciding to raise my daughter with 2 (at least) languages. I have seen her change from a predominately Spanish speaker at 2 and a 1/2 years old to having a strong command of English within 6 months of being immersed in an English daycare. Today, at 4 years old, it can be difficult to tell which of the 2 languages she speaks “better.” Just the other day the following conversation took place between her and a new friend:

New Friend: Sabrina, por que hablas ingles?
Sabrina: En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!
Me: That’s right, honey. You are bilingual and your friend is becoming bilingual just like you!

In fact, one could argue, based on that single sentence she uttered above, that she has a strong command of both languages because she managed to code-switch while maintaining the grammatical structure of both languages!

When it comes to raising a bilingual child it seems like, as I have said before, there are many trials, joys, and tribulations. Having moved to Ecuador recently we switched to speaking English with Sabrina for the first time in her life! She refused to speak to us in English for about 2 months UNTIL she came home from her first day at a Spanish school. The teachers and classmates were so impressed with her American English that she, what I assume, felt proud. Since that day she speaks mostly in English to us. It was a complete shock to me to see how drastically she switched all due to what her peers thought. Now, as I mentioned, my biggest concern is asking her to switch back to Spanish IF we ever decide to move back to the U.S.

Have your children successfully switched back to the original language you had spoken after moving back to a country of origin?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bilingualism in Ecuador

Bilingualism is highly valued in Ecuador. There is no doubt about that. That being said, I have been trying to understand how Spanish and English work here.  All of the private schools I have visited promote becoming bilingual. The public schools, from what I have heard, also promote bilingualism, but at a completely different level. Here’s the interesting observation I have made. Rarely, if ever, do I hear locals speaking English. In fact, I sense a level of discomfort interacting in English. It’s as if English is a tool with a certain purpose. The purpose being several ones: travel, business, or to speak with someone from another country.

There is something about Spanish and English that definitely stands out. People here code-switch or it could be a form of language mixing (which I can explain in another post). For example, I was speaking to another parent about sleep training her children when she said, “No fue facil. Tenia los dos mellizas durmiendo en el mismo cuarto o como dicen los gringos, ‘it wasn’t a piece of cake.”

There is English everywhere we go. You will see it as the name of business, like Sweet & Coffee. Though I think it should read: Sweets & Coffee. Which leads me to my next observation. Sometimes the translations are off like a store in the mall advertising: joyas de boda. In English they wrote, marge jewelry. Huge mistake.

All in all, our experience as a bilingual family in Ecuador has been amazing. I look forward to sharing more about those experiences in future posts as well. Our daughter has certainly improved how to associate people with language. She switches between Spanish and English almost flawlessly. I think we are on track in raising a prolific code switcher and someone who is proud to know more than one language. Just the other day she said, “En Austin hablamos espaniol y in Ecuador we speak English!”