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.

 

 

 

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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.

 

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!

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

The Bilingual Connection in Texas(Tejas)

The other day I was speaking in Spanish, like I always do with my daughter, and in English, like I always do with my sister. Somewhere between talking to my sister about her studying for the GRE while at the same time chasing my baby girl around the room, I ended up blurting out to my sister, “Toma your pencil.” After I had grabbed it from my 17 month old as she attempted to put it in her mouth, which is nothing out of the ordinary. This is how she explores her world. Apparently, this is how my bilingual world connects, sometimes. They meet in the middle of a sentence. It should really be no surprise that so many people in Texas code-switch, blend Spanish and English, sometimes making a new word using the 2 languages.

This is the bilingual connection. This is Texas!

Where is the controversy in Franglais, Singlish, or Spanglish?

Where is it? Why does it exist? How can the problem be solved? Is there a problem? The answers to all of these questions really just depends on who you are speaking to and, in my opinion, where they stand.

I will just be frank about my perspective. There are economic, political, and social implications when discussing, in both the positive and negative light, how terms, such as Spanglish, are addressed in regard to people. At least as the term(s) continue to evolve from having a negative connotation to a positive one.

The above is a post I started seven months, but never finished. I remember having just watched a debate between academics about the use of Spanglish. I was inspired. I was many things…angry, curious, intrigued, and again, inspired. I continue to be all of those the further I explore how people use language in everyday speech. For those of you, who actually read my blog, I have to admit that I have neglected to spend more time exploring these issues about language in my life, and those of others on my blog. I have been swamped by all of the demands my doctoral program requires of me, along with mommy-hood, and a part-time job.

So, for now, I turn the question to the readers, or those who happen to run into this blog: where is the controversy in Franglais, Singlish, or Spanglish?