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

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

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.

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.