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

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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.

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.

 

Speaking Spanish brings out the best in people…

The older Sabrina gets the more Spanish I speak. The more she learns to interact, the more I use Spanish—-sounds normal, right? Well the scenarios I am about to describe in the paragraphs below are beyond normal. Let me preface the stories with, when Sabrina was first born I was having a hard time (for many new-mommy reasons) making the effort to communicate with her in Spanish. Now, thankfully, it seems to fill our days and routines, although never did I imagine I would encounter scenarios like the ones I am about to share.

What I am starting to realize is that other people are noticing, more and more, that we are not speaking the dominant language–English. Speaking in Spanish to my baby girl is bringing out the best in strangers. Let me give you a glimpse…

The other day we were grocery shopping at a pretty popular market. It’s the kind of market that serves gourmet, chef-prepared foods—such a delight. We were actually walking passed the chef-prepared food aisle–I like to admire the food and dream about buying it guilt-free. At any rate, this man noticed that I was speaking to Sabrina in Spanish—I think I was saying something like, “No, Sabrina. No toques eso. No es juguete mi amor.” She was reaching for an odd shaped box with some sort of specialty bread in it. This was happening while I was also admiring the food when an older man turns to me, holding chef-prepared green salsa enchiladas in his hand, he looks at me with a sincere smile, and says, “This looks like something you may like.” WOW. I was shocked. I wasn’t offended because he was so sweet about it, in a way. Now, I may be totally off here, in that he may have uttered the same sentence had I been speaking in English. The thing is—me speaking in Spanish and strangers making comments about it, either directly or indirectly, is starting to become a pattern. Some of the readers may even blame it on the fact that I live in Texas, a predominately conservative state. Here’s the thing. I have experienced instances like these when I lived in a “liberal” state, too. I grew up in Orange County, CA and experienced similar stereotyped comments growing up all the time–at least it seemed like it was all the time. Can you believe that I was I was once asked (when I lived in a predominately white city in SoCal) where it was that I tanned!

So, the second scenario where me speaking Spanish has brought out the best in someone happened about a month ago. This one left me feeling shocked, yet a little hurt as well. I was in another grocery store. This one is just a traditional market. My abuelita was with me and I was speaking in Spanish with her, my daughter, and subsequently with the lady behind me in line. I can’t remember what my abuelita and I were talking about, probably about the food we had just bought. She wanted to make arroz mexicana. I had purchased some wine and the cashier starts motioning to me as if she were driving and saying “drivers license, drivers license.” I realized quickly that she didn’t know I could speak English as well which is totally fine. It’s her second comment that really upset me and I probably should have called her out on it right away. She, then, said to me (as I was taking out my drivers license and continuing to talk with my abuelita), “English, please. English!” I was, again, shocked. Interestingly, right at that same moment the lady behind (who knew English and Spanish) said, “Que linda es su bebita. Cuantos meses tiene?” In fact, now that I think about it I think she asked me that to, in her own way, tell the cashier that we can speak whatever it is we want. We weren’t even speaking to the cashier! The cashier, once again, said, “English, please. ENGLISH.” I proceeded to swipe my credit card on the machine, looked her in the eye and said (because she still thought I only knew Spanish), “Actually I can speak in either one, English or Spanish. I can speak both.”

What are some experiences you have had speaking a minority language in a majority-language context?

A window to my past…

A few weekends ago my abuelita was in town. I hadn’t seen her in a long while because I have been overwhelmed with my studies and, quite frankly, it’s difficult to travel with my one year old daughter.

We spent the day together. We spent the day cooking, talking, and enjoying each others company…..well, actually, me regañó to the max degree! She scolded me, she nagged me about how undomesticated I am and how little I value the extended family I have in my life, and then she broke out into tears….se le salieron las lagrimas ;(

She reminded me that she grew up with no one. Literally. She was an orphan in Jalisco, Mexico about 60+ years ago. Her older sister went to look for her when she old enough and they lived together for many years. My abuelita reminded me that she had to teach herself everything she knows about life, which included what I lacked, cooking skills to start.

As I was washing dishes she reminded me that, though, I am too busy pursuing a doctoral degree, and she only reached a second grade education, that she is much more educated.

Let me pause…..

I know it seems that I am portraying my abuelita in a negative light, but what I am actually trying to show is a window to my past. Our day together was pleasant. The stories she shared with me and the thoughts about how I am living my life came out of concern and are rooted in the pain she has felt in hers. She was trying to pass down some consejos to me and that is something I can appreciate. The whole day I felt like she was trying to share as much as possible with me about what life has taught her, while at the same time, I know that part of her rambling is due to old age, but still. The woman had something to say.

This post is a perfect example as to why I want my bebita to learn Spanish. Many times when I try to share something, the words that most poignantly describe the thought, story, or sentiment of what I am trying to say are in Spanish.

That particular afternoon, with my Abuelita Cata, could not have been lived had I not known Spanish.