I’m a Mamá Raising Language Warriors

Language warriors are “… Spanish-dominant bilingual students [who] not only support English-speaking peers’ learning Spanish but also advocate for their marginalized monolingual Spanish-dominant peers. This language warrior role revealed problem solving, mediating skills, and advocacy, but such attributes are rarely recognized by academic assessments” (DeNicolo, 2010, p. 234). Below is a glimpse of MY little language warrior:

A convo between my 7 year-old daughter and I about the upcoming Columbus holiday:

s: Mami, do we celebrate Columbus Day?
Me: Umm, well, it’s a holiday in the US, but I don’t like to celebrate it.
s: Would you rather celebrate the ones that died? The Native Americans?
Me: Of course! (Thinking, umm, how’d you know?)
S: Yeah, that’s what my teacher said, too. I think my whole school is gonna celebrate the Native Americans.

This is just one of many conversations we have about the social injustices people of color have and continue to experience in the U.S., but really it happens all over the world. Sabrina was seeing if her momma agreed with what was said at school about celebrating Native Americans as opposed to a white colonizer, Cristopher Columbus. I don’t think she doubted that I would not agree with her teacher, but I do think she was making sense of a social justice issue that matters especially to a marginalized community, Native Americans. It is conversations like these that I urge parents to have with their children, especially White parents. It is one of the first steps in deconstructing institutional racism.

I also recognize that the “opportunity” to discuss these sensitive and urgent issues also means I am coming from a place of privilege. We are not in fear for our lives. In fact, we live comfortable lives, our “white” skin, or the ability to pass as “white”, and our status in the U.S. protects us. For these reasons (and so many more) I have decided to raise a language warrior, an ally, and an activist. I feel that it is my responsibility as a Latinx mother to pass on this role. I continue to speak to my daughter about the ways her bilingualism is a privilege; one that we have worked so hard to nurture. Initially, we started down this bilingual journey because we our very proud of our Latinx heritage, but now that she is older, I emphasize how important it is to be advocates and allies for our Latinx brothers and sisters which also includes other people of color.

We are still working on what it sounds like and looks like to support English-speaking peers’ learning Spanish and advocate for marginalized monolingual Spanish-dominant peers.  This can be tricky to navigate because my daughter is in a two-way dual language program which has, over time, become more of a boutique  school where many of her peers come from upper middle-class, monolingual, and White backgrounds. In other words, Spanish-dominant peers are few and far between. I worry that she will do more translating to help her peers take on a language so close and dear to who she is as a Latina bilingual rather than having friends that look, sound, breathe, and live bilingual lives every minute of the day and not just during school hours.

 

 

 

 

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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.

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