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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Sometimes Spanish does not come first!

Even before I had Sabrina I was scoping out our foreign language schools options. I got on several waiting lists and eventually got into all of them! In fact, I keep my nena on a rolling waiting list because you never know. I was so set on foreign language exposure that I did not even bother looking into English child development (aka day care options or mothers-day-out programs). I had my heart and eyes focused on the foreign language component that it, unfortunately, blurred my sense of vision. I lost sight of what was really important — my daughter’s well being, her happiness, and what she needed in school.

As I scoped out language schools I started to notice a trend. Most of them seem to have a stricter and more regimented program for teaching and taking care of children. I started to wonder if this had something to do with the ways children are taught and cared for in Latin American countries. I know that western/North American child rearing practices can be very different than other parts of the world, so surely this, too, affects the way children are regarding in Latin American day care centers and schools.

As I have mentioned in other posts, we love the little school Sabrina is enrolled in now. They value linguistic diversity and that, to me, is priceless. We have had to consider other options because it was now too far from our home, but to be honest, I was not entirely happy with the stricter and more regimented schedule they have in place. I won’t get into details, but I will say that I recently checked out an English school in town and walked into a whole new world.

The child was at the center of their “play-curriculum.” If my baby girl wants to paint, she can; if she wants to play with shaving cream in a water table, she can. The place seemed happy, the kids were happy, and most importantly, they were doing things that 2 and a half year olds should be doing—socializing and playing. In other words, they don’t have to wait for art time to happen in an organized, sitting in their chair, and waiting their turn fashion.

Read: Is Bilingual Education Right for Us?

Taking the initiative to look at English schools may have happened out of necessity, but deciding that sometimes Spanish does not come first was a process. We have been speaking in Spanish to Sabrina since the day she was born and have been really consistent about it. She probably knows about 90% Spanish and 10% English.

My heart was aching and tears were swelling up in my eyes when I was forced to take a closer look at the decisions we were making about exposing my daughter to Spanish almost 100% of the day. I realized that the decisions we had made were possibly costing her opportunities to just be a kid. All she wants to do is play, socialize with other kids, and do creative things. Sure she would stay in her seat, listen to the teacher, walk in a line with her hands behind her back, but she is too young to voice her opinion or even know that there are other schools available where being a 2 ½ year old comes first, then learning Spanish.

I’m curious, what are foreign language schools/day care centers like in your city? Have you compared English versus Spanish schools? If so, did you notice a difference like I did? How are you weighing your options?

*Originally published on the Spanglish Baby website on December 26, 2012

A glimpse into my academic life…..

This semester I am learning about language policy and discourse analysis. I am utterly reading pages and pages of material that are of utmost interest to me. I feel as if I have found my niche…or as I explained recently to a friend how my desire to become an anthropologist when I was a child is finally coming true. I am not becoming an anthropologist, but I am using research methods grounded in anthropology to study/research the way people use language. So below I offer a glimpse of how my thinking about language is evolving as I read pages and pages of salivating information about discourse analysis and language policy. Enjoy!

When speaking, researching, studying language-in-use it is impossible to leave out the political, economic, and social factors that influence language because language is a social construct. Yes, from a Chomskyan point of view all languages are inherently equal when it comes to structure and how they are acquired, BUT what is different is how the perception of each language is constructed as a result of political, economical, even religious factors SO how do we study or speak about language-in-use without considering our subjective views as they are influenced by our social, economical, and political ties. Is it in how we frame our research question and/or in how we analyze the data?