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.

 

 

 

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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!

For whom are we protecting the designated use of languages in two-way bilingual education (TWBE) programs?

After attending the Teaching English for Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) convention this past week in Atlanta, GA and noticing how much “we” tend to place an immense amount of value on a certain kind “English,” I started thinking about the TWBE context. A context that is dear to my bilingual and Latinx heart as a former TWBE teacher, a parent with children in TWBE programs, and as an academic who has spent a large part of my time invested in this “ideal” form of bilingual education.

In the TWBE community, scholars and parents argue for Spanish to have a protected space in the classroom. Don’t get me wrong — I much prefer Spanish time over English and do think we  need to place more value on Spanish than English (more to come below). A protective space for Spanish is a legit concern considering that English is overwhelmingly present – or, how I like to describe it, English is a huge tidal wave that sweeps everything and everyone with its powerful force. Here’s my issue with “protecting Spanish” or any other minoritized language in dual language classrooms, For whom are we protecting Spanish in TWBE programs? I cannot critique TWBE classrooms without personalizing my experience as a parent raising 3rd generation bilinguals (no small feat!) and as a heritage speaker of Spanish. My daughters, like many heritage speakers of Spanish, walked into their designated dual language program already bilingual. They are used to navigating multilingual spaces and are quite comfortable doing so. Speaking Spanish is like breathing air – an automatic response to being alive. Translanguaging is a way of being for them, it’s not a mystery to be explored and problematized. When we promote a designated time for Spanish or English (!!) we are drawing from the language practices and strategies that were designed for the White and monolingual English-speaking demographic. I think we should all follow Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes (AOC) advice at SXSW and create our own spaces of agency, a sort of FUBU language policies, that reflect our history and language practices.

A more urgent point is that English does not need a protective space in the elementary TWBE programs (at least not until the upper elementary years)! As a parent raising 3rd generation multilingual daughters, I literally threw English out the door, in the trash can, and sent all our English children’s books to Goodwill (don’t really recommend doing that). I have made a huge concerted effort to raise the status of OUR Spanish. I would even argue that I’ve been pretty successful at helping my daughters value their Latinidad and bilingualism, BUT this could not have happened (for many reasons) had I let English have a “protected” space in our lives. English does not need a single centimeter of space – it naturally will consume every facet of your child’s life in the U.S. context (and others internationally).

In my Latinx and bilingual world, the TWBE program would be “heavily marketed” to communities of color who speak a variety of English(es). What I (re)imagine is that a beautiful and linguistically diverse group of students would get to continue to grow up as heritage speakers of [insert minoritized language] while building bridges between communities of color. *Communities of Color [for a reimagined] Two-way Bilingual Education (COC-TWBE)

White supremacy is an intricate part of the institutions we navigate and an ingrained part of our (un)conscious ways of being that it is highly unlikely that my ideal Latinx and bilingual world will come into fruition unfortunately (or any time soon). Until then, I will continue to use my own positionality as a mamá raising language warriors and a Latinx expert in bilingual education to #speakup and #standup for and with communities of colors who seek a more equitable two-way immersion bilingual education program.

#gentrificationTWBE #FUBU #LatinxLanguagePolicies #bilingualeducation #multilingualVIDA #TWBE #PhDLatina #protectedspacesforCOC #notsameassegregation #onourterms #Spanishonourterms #SpanishRights #SpanishasResistence #reclaimingSpanish #sisepuede

An Update About Raising 3rd Generation Multilingual Daughters.

Just read an article about “Bilingualism and Age,” which got me thinking about my daughter’s language exposure and development:

Sabrina was born into a home where both parents spoke in Spanish to her (direct input), but we spoke (and continue to do so) in mostly English to each other with some Spanish. Her daycare was a Spanish immersion one (so more direct Spanish spoken to her), BUT that is where she learned the most English because her peers spoke in English to her. Socially, she spoke in Spanish to us and any other little kid her age (1-2 1/2 years old). At 2 1/2 she entered an English-speaking school and in 3 months her English was (arguably) as strong as her Spanish. English became a tidal wave for us that we continue to deal with.

Siena was born into a home where both parents spoke in Spanish to her (direct input), but we spoke (and continue to do so) in mostly English to each other with some Spanish. Sabrina initially spoke in Spanish to her little sister because she believed Siena only knew Spanish. This worked really well for some time, but as time went (Siena learning to speak) by, English took over like a huge tidal wave between their relationship. Siena heard English and Spanish directed at her way more than Sabrina ever did. At 2 1/2 she entered a Spanish immersion school and at 3 years old she started a new school which was Chinese immersion. Two years later, Siena is what I would call a full blown simultaneous bilingual.

Sabrina and Siena’s language experiences have been so different even though we have lived in the same home. They both lived in Ecuador, but even that experience was distinct for both of them, Siena heard more Spanish and Sabrina heard and used both seamlessly. Although both girls would be considered simultaneous bilinguals, they are both such different users of their languages. I think Sabrina leans more toward a sequential bilingual because she learned English later, but it is definitely a fine line.

Either way, both girls function, live, and breathe with their 2-3 languages. I cannot imagine how their identity would change if they were asked to ONLY speak English. It would be like asking them to hold their breathe or to hide who they really are. Sadly, this experience happens to many young children in the U.S.

Their development as multilingual individuals has truly been one of the most amazing experiences in my life. I don’t think we could have come this far had I not had a Ph.D. in bilingual education because people like me, 2nd generation Mexican immigrant, use of Spanish, bilingualism has been so stigmatized in this country. This is one of the reasons why I am determined to hone in on strategies that support bilingualism in the 3rd generation. It is our time to reclaim what was always ours, the Spanish language,  and very much a part of who we are.

#multilingualVIDA #bilingualism #languagewarriors #raisingbilingualkids

For What and for Whom is our Research?

As someone who identifies as an academic that “researches” the very demographic that is currently being attacked at the border, my sense of obligation to #speakup, #standup, and #resist with and for immigrants has never been stronger.

I think Lourdes Ortega’s question (the title of this blog post), For what and for whom is our research?, is really poignant right now. I don’t think I could ethically write, speak, and create research about a certain demographic and not also do the hard work of an activist, advocate, or ally. I don’t even think I do enough as it is. I want to encourage my fellow colleagues (some of whom are really vocal and active as it is when it comes to supporting marginalized communities) to reflect and re-examine what and how we do what we do in academia.

I am taking a risk here by publicaly making this request or assertion because I am what is considered in academia a junior faculty member, but also in a marginalized position as a “visiting” or adjunct professor. We are living during times where these kind of questions/assertions/requests must be asked. I am willing to take that risk. Compared to others, I have very little to lose. #pueblounido #heavyheart #somossemillas #keepfamiliestogether

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.

 

 

 

 

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.

 

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?