Have Bilingual, Latinx Children Become a Commodity?

It is both surreal and ironic to me that this blog post still rings true for so many….

With the rise of dual language education in the U.S., have bilingual, Latinx children become a commodity? In other words, are children who walk into the dual language classroom already speaking two languages possessing a highly valued commodity: bilingualism? The question, though, still remains, whose bilingualism is valued? Is it the “middle class” students bilingualism or is it those students who come from “lower class” homes? To distinguish between “middle” and “lower” class, I’d like to clarify how I am referring to the two kinds of bilinguals. There are those whose parents have a “formal” education and belong to a certain (higher) economic bracket and those whose parents have a “limited” formal education and come from lower economic brackets, generally speaking. Both bilinguals are what we, in academia, call heritage-speakers of a minoritized language (like Spanish).

This past week my little girl completed her first year at a local private Spanish immersion daycare center. At the end of each year the escuelita (little school) puts on a recital where each classroom dances to a Spanish song. The theme was “Los Insectos….and Other Little Critters.” One of the many reasons why I love and chose this escuelita for my daughter is because they value linguistic diversity. As you can see in the very title of the production the teachers at her school chose to translanguage: Spanish and English are used in a single phrase. I love that because it reflects a view of bilinguals drawing from one linguistic repertoire like many of us do in Central Texas. In an earlier post, I wrote about my experience while visiting another Spanish immersion school before deciding where my daughter would attend. It was at that other school where I was informed “We don’t use Tex-Mex here.” What they failed to realize is the importance in being able to communicate with members of our local community, in addition to being able to perform linguistically in academic settings, like the classroom. For this reason I decided to enroll my daughter elsewhere, but also because they insulted a key feature of my linguistic repertoire!

My parents were or would be categorized as working class Mexican immigrants and I was/am a heritage-speaker of Spanish, though when I was in elementary school in the 80’s dual language education was not an option. Now, I identify asa middle-class and highly educated parent of two daughters I am raising with multiple languages. I presume her multilingualism will be a highly valued commodity as local schools try to fill dual language classrooms with “native” Spanish-speakers. What I will continue to strive for, as a parent and academic, is placing greater value in the dynamic ways the Latinx community uses Spanish and English like we do in central Texas!

(Originally posted in 2012 on the SpanglishBaby website)

The Right to a Bilingual Education in California

When Proposition – 58 passed in 2016 it repealed Proposition 227. Proposition 227 eliminated bilingual education for students who speak a language other than English in the state of California. Proposition -58 makes bilingual education programs a requirement in public schools as long as they meet the following requirement.

Community members have the right to request a bilingual education program at their local public schools if 30 students at any given school are considered English Learners. This rule also applies if there are 20 students in any given grade level who are considered English Learners. English Learners are students whose parents have stated on a Home Language Survey that they speak a language other than English at home. School administrators test children whose parents have stated that they speak a language other than English at home to see if they fall along an English Learner continuum. In the state of California, there are several labels used to identify an individual as an “English Learner.” It should be noted that “English Learners” are bilingual children. Many of our bilingual children come from minoritized and immigrant communities. They arrive at our local public schools with a wealth of cultural and linguistic knowledge and it is time for us in California to open our school doors ready to learn from and with them.

That being said, any school community member can request a bilingual education program. In other words, the school community member does not have to be a parent of an English Learner. The website, Ala y Voz (by California Together), has created an array of materials school communities can use to raise awareness about requesting a bilingual education program. The website also includes information about HOW to request a bilingual education program at your local school.

There are several models of bilingual education communities can request and the one that is chosen really depends on the school and community demographics. The model that is highly effective and has gained a great deal of popularity is the two-way immersion dual language model. I recommend those seeking a bilingual education program choose a model that best meets their school needs.

Lets work towards creating awareness about our multilingual communities in the U.S. One way to start is by being aware of our (language) rights and advocating for bilingual education.

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.

 

 

 

Do Children Learn or Acquire Language?

Below is a video of our 3 year old speaking Mandarin. Her teacher sent it to us because she was very impressed with Siena’s accent in Mandarin and how natural it sounded. To be honest, I was very impressed as well even though I have no idea what she is saying. In fact, I find it totally fascinating that even though I know more than the average person about bilingualism that I am still reacting with amazement of my daughter acquiring a third language. That is, her development as a bilingual Spanish and English speaker came as a “Of course she is becoming bilingual because we, as a family unit, are bilingual,” but it wasn’t an “Oh, wow! Look how she acquires both languages” moment.

As you can infer from the paragraph above I believe Siena is acquiring Mandarin which is very different from learning Mandarin. According to second language acquisition theories, acquiring a language occurs in authentic  settings, such as living in a country where the language is spoken and where individuals are forced to use the target language through social interactions. Learning a language usually occurs in the a traditional school setting and many times grammar becomes a focus.

Our daughter is very privileged in that she is going to a Montessori Chinese immersion school for young children. We didn’t purposely plan on adding a third language to our family’s linguistic repertoire, it was a matter of “convenience” actually. That being said, we welcome the opportunity with open hearts. We also recognize that it takes a huge commitment on our part as a family. We have opened up spaces in our home to talk about learning Mandarin in purposeful ways. One way we do this is with the weekly homework the school provides. For example, I will read the pinyin in order to understand the Chinese characters when helping my older daughter complete her homework. Pinyin is “the official romanization system for Standard Chinese in mainland ChinaMalaysiaSingapore, and Taiwan” (reference from Wikipedia). Meanwhile my younger daughter is also participating by repeating the teacher -recorded sentences. Although this interaction reflects a “learning” of Mandarin it does support the way both girls are acquiring Chinese when they go their classes.

My main message for parents who have their children in language programs is to remember learning/acquiring a language takes a village. It is NOT the sole responsibility of the teacher. You, too, have to make a HUGE effort to support the minority language in your home. This can mean taking the time to learn Spanish (or the target minority language), or in our case Mandarin, as well. This can also mean finding ways to increase the status of the minority language in your lives. However you plan on embracing an additional language–make sure you are enjoying the process because children will also respond to your reactions towards becoming a bi/multilingual family.

Please don’t call me “super liberal” Here’s why…

I’m the first to admit that I didn’t start voting until I was 28. I don’t really have a solid reason. I wasn’t anti-politics or making our nation and communities a better place. I could blame it on my parents since they couldn’t vote because they weren’t citizens, but I’m past that. There was definitely a side of me that didn’t feel a sense of conviction when it came to voting. I wasn’t moved to vote. I fit that national statistic that describes Latinxs as not voting. It would be embarrassing–in feminist circles— to say that I started voting because my husband convinced me to go ahead and vote in 2004. Unfortunately, for his sake, we cancelled each others votes and it was in that presidential election where I was forced to ask myself where I stood on the political party lines. Honestly something I had never really considered. Since then I know where I stand on the political spectrum, but I still don’t feel a strong conviction to say “I am Democrat.” Here’s why.

I’m not trying to maintain a privileged status quo. When I advocate for issues that matter to me I am speaking for marginalized communities. More personally, when I advocate for certain basic human rights I am doing so because parts of my identity are being attacked. I am an immigrant. I identify as female. I am Latina and I am bilingual. These aren’t parts of me that sort of just emerged or parts of me that say “I have a right to spend my money this way or speak only this language.” I’m just trying to be me; who I have always been since birth. So when someone says “You’re super liberal or You are so progressive!” a part of me cringes a little. I’m just trying to be me. I’m just trying to advocate for the parts of me which represent large and marginalized communities so that we can continue to have basic human rights. I’m not asking for tax break. I’m not asking to be able to take my kid to some prestigous private school with a voucher. I’m not asking to maintain my status quo. I’m asking to break down the walls that keep parts of my identity (and others who identify the same way) marginalized.

So, please, don’t call me “super liberal.”

I’m just trying to be me.

#chingona #Latinx #immigrant #bilingual

Our Multilingual Journey: Spanglish, Spanish, English, & Mandarin.

It’s not uncommon to walk into my home and hear a multitude of languages being spoken at any given time. Our 3 year-old, so far, is becoming prolific at translanguaging between Spanish, English, Spanglish, and Mandarin. She has a great role model of how to translanguage, her big sister! Sabrina has been translanguaging since she was at least 2 years old.

Depending on your background and familiarity with languages you may or may not grasp all that goes on in what  may seem like a linguistically chaotic home. At times you may hear, “Mama, poo tao (which is Mandarin), por favor?” which means, Mama, uva, por favor, in Spanish or Mama, grape, please, in English. Other times you may hear, “You have to chup it! Mama she’s not chupping it!” which translates to You have to suck it! Mama she isn’t sucking it!  You could also hear, “Que vas a hacer?/What are you going to do” with a response in English, “I don’t know. I can’t sleep.” This is our everyday. This is our normal.

We started on this multilingual journey in 2009 when I was pregnant with our first child. I had to convince my husband (a bilingual) that we could do it and that we just had to be consistent. So far the journey has been amazing and nothing like I expected. I have learned that in many ways we have it easier than other parents because we both are bilingual in Spanish and English. That being said, in many ways we don’t have it easier. We both feel more comfortable in speaking English than we do Spanish, although we grew up with both languages. The key difference between us and those parents who were possibly born and raised in a Spanish speaking country is that both my husband and I did not go to Spanish-speaking schools. Spanish has colored our lives in social and cultural ways because we are Latino. Growing up my parents spoke Spanish at home and most recently we got to live in Ecuador, where my husband’s family is from, for 1 1/2 years.

Up until last year Spanish, Spanglish, and English were the three languages that ebbed and flowed between us. In August 2016 our 3 year old began going to a Chinese immersion school and it has influenced our lives in dynamic ways. This experience has taken us out of our linguistic comfort zone and introduced us to a culture we weren’t all that familiar with. For example, when we drop our daughter off at school she switches to her inside shoes–as is customary in some Chinese homes. We also celebrated the Chinese New Year for the first time and learned that children are given red envelopes with “money” or as a symbol of good fortune. I have found myself using Spanish, English, Mandarin, and Spanglish simultaneously when helping my daughter with Chinese homework or when trying to figure out what my 3 year old is asking for.

I have learned that when we decided to have our daughters be part of a Chinese immersion program we also became observers, learners, and guests of a new community. I learned that as an “outsider” I had to respect certain ways of communicating and doing things. These are behaviors and ways of communicating I took for granted as a bilingual Latina when dropping off my daughters at their Spanish immersion schools. For parents who are deciding to put their children in a language immersion program, if I could offer one piece of advice it would be to consider how your presence can influence the dynamics of a program where you are considered the “outsider” of the minority language being learned or spoken. Try being an observer, a guest, and someone who is also learning to be a part of community you may not have had access to had you not decided to be a part of a bilingual school.

 

Making America (Immigrant) Again!

When I think of “America” I think of South, Central, and North America—that’s one of many flaws in Donald Trump’s campaign slogan. He is perpetuating the idea that “America” strictly applies to those of us in the U.S.A and belong to the dominant group or share the dominant groups views.

I am left wondering, Donald Trump, are we going to make ALL of South, North, and Central America “great” again?

Immigrants have made this country, the USA, a place of refuge. I think you know who we should thank for the space, Native Americans. If only those in power would recognize that this land was colonized by immigrants. Immigrants seeking refuge due to religious, economical, and/or political oppression. The face of the immigrant has changed over time, but the reasons for coming here remain largely the same.

Therefore, as a stand against a hateful rhetoric towards undocumented immigrants and immigrants seeking asylum I make the following declarations about my own identity to remind others that we are all immigrants. Immigrants that have shared a journey in making the U.S.A our home.

I am a second-generation Mexican immigrant.
Which generation are you?

I am multiingual in Spanish, English, and Spanglish.
How many languages (do you speak that) have been past down from your ancestors?

I am an American.
I love the America I know that embraces ethnically, racially, and linguistically diverse communities.

BEING AMERICAN MEANS BEING AN IMMIGRANT.

We are a nation that does not have an official language because we speak a plethora of languages.

We are NOT a homogenous nation!
We are brown!
We are black!
We are multilingual!
We are a nation of many creeds!
We are NOT what you, Donald Trump, say we are!

We will continue to stand up and speak up for marginalized communities!
We are united!
We will resist!
We will rise!

Spanish as a right: We do what we please with our bilingualism!

I have been speaking to my daughters in Spanish since they were in womb. I have made zero accommodations for anyone in the way I choose to navigate our bilingual lives. I have had a range of experiences in which I was asked to simply speak English in public spaces to being asked when I was planning on exposing my daughter’s to English (even though we live in a country where the English-monolingual identity is powerful and influential).

I’ve started to think about what our bilingual world would be like now that an anti-immigrant/English-first (synonymous with America-first) POTUS is in power. Now more than ever (at least for me as a parent/academic raising bilingual children) using Spanish becomes a right, a political statement, a weapon against a hateful rhetoric that essentially put Donald Trump in the position he is now as POTUS. For these reasons alone, I have decided to speak Spanish a little “louder” in public spaces. I started to think about the idea that, we (Latinx’s who speak Spanish) can do what we please to do with our bilingualism.

On another note, it’s not uncommon for Spanish speakers who live abroad to try and make hotel reservations in New York City while planning a vacation. What if an individual abroad happens to only speak Spanish? What if they call Trump Tower (perhaps oblivious or indifferent to the way Trump feels about some Spanish-speaking immigrants) and can only try and make a reservation in Spanish? Would someone be willing or able to help them? What would happen? Would they get hung up on because the receptionist doesn’t speak or understand Spanish? Would the receptionist be so tired of pranks to Trump Tower and threaten to report their phone call to police ALL because they have no idea what the Spanish speaker is saying? Even if it was simply, “Hello, I’d like to make a reservation” in Spanish.

Do we now live in a U.S.A. where speaking Spanish to someone who doesn’t understand Spanish be considered a threat? Is speaking Spanish now liable as a report to the police? What could the police actually do? Would they arrest you on the premise that English is the accepted norm (even though the USA does not have an official language)? What would happen?

Language is a right! We should be able to navigate public spaces in whichever language we see fit! After all, this is how we do being bilingual!

¡Ni un paso atra, hermanxs!  ¡Ser bilingue vale por dos!

Living in White (Public) Spaces

It never fails. I’m sitting in a cafe working away. Totally focused on my next writing project when I do what I always do. I look around the cafe (sometimes restaurant or store) and see who is present? Who is accounted for? Who is there? Who has the privilege of buying the food I’m buying. Many times I navigate White spaces. Most people around me are White and speaking “standard” English. It really should come to no surprise then that my 6 year old prefers her lighter skinned dolls than her brown or darker ones.

I keep wondering if I can break this cycle of living in White spaces. If I can purposely go to the other side of town (now gentrified or being gentrified) and find a space where I can write or work where I see people that look and speak like me. Ive been to those kind of places in New York City, for example. I remember going to a bar with friends in NYC and seeing people of color, much like myself, simply relaxing and enjoying a few drinks in a very modern and hip place. I want to go to that cafe where people of color are the majority and we are translanguaging–to me that would be a place where I can feel like I belong.

Exploring Cuba. #cubalibre ¡Vamos a Cuba!

The first time I went to Miami, Florida I was in my 20’s. I fell in love with the city because a part of me felt like I was somewhere in Latin America or the Caribbean. It was in Miami where I learned how mojitos and cuba libres are supposed to taste and how REAL salseros actually don’t mirror their partners steps (east coast west coast salsa, I get it). There was something spectacularly intriguing to me when I danced with a “Cubano de Cuba.” I’ll never forget how it was described to me, “There’s nothing like watching two Cuban people dance salsa.” After that comment I never saw ANY two dancers the same. In fact,  I think when partners dance they tell a story. Their story to be exact.

My trips to Miami always included the same routines: pastelitos de guayaba y cafe con leche (then the BEACH for hours), a sandwich from Publix (a grocery store) for lunch, rest and a nap, THEN dinner (something Argentine or Peruvian many times), then DANCE, DANCE, DANCE, SALSA, SALSA, SALSA until the break of dawn!

It was through these experiences where I heard immigrant stories about leaving Cuba. Sometimes first hand experiences, but mostly from 2nd generation Cuban immigrants. We shared things in common in that my parents had also immigrated a generation ago (but from Mexico) and in those ways I connected with them. It has been 15 years since I first went to Miami and 15 since I decided that one day I would travel to Cuba.

I’m on a journey now to plan our first trip to Cuba and, as it turns out, this planning also coincided with the passing of Fidel Castro. I am so curious to hear stories from the people that actually live in Cuba, to see how a world so close to us lives in such a different way.  If I state that I am going to “support the Cuban people,” then what kind of proof do I need to show when returning to the U.S.A that I did that? Would staying at a “casa particular” be enough? I have also thought of contacting professors at a local university in Havana to express an interest in planning an educational trip with my university students, but am not quite sure what the first steps involve in trying to do just that?

I would love to hear from my readers who have traveled to Cuba. #cubalibre #vivacuba