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

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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

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.

 

Living in White (Public) Spaces

It never fails. I’m sitting in a cafe working away. Totally focused on my next writing project when I do what I always do. I look around the cafe (sometimes restaurant or store) and see who is present? Who is accounted for? Who is there? Who has the privilege of buying the food I’m buying. Many times I navigate White spaces. Most people around me are White and speaking “standard” English. It really should come to no surprise then that my 6 year old prefers her lighter skinned dolls than her brown or darker ones.

I keep wondering if I can break this cycle of living in White spaces. If I can purposely go to the other side of town (now gentrified or being gentrified) and find a space where I can write or work where I see people that look and speak like me. Ive been to those kind of places in New York City, for example. I remember going to a bar with friends in NYC and seeing people of color, much like myself, simply relaxing and enjoying a few drinks in a very modern and hip place. I want to go to that cafe where people of color are the majority and we are translanguaging–to me that would be a place where I can feel like I belong.

A “new” civil rights movement on the rise?

I’m writing this with a heavy heart, but with a mighty soul. I want to start off with focusing on the title of this post. I said “new” because I think the spirit of the civil rights movement our brothers and sisters participated in is and has been a part of our lives, spirit, and determination as we made our journey as people of color (POC) and as a society who has fought for social change in the USA.

We are faced with a new challenge today. We are faced with some of our civil rights being contested. Most importantly, we are faced with our human rights being challenged. My fight in this “new” civil rights movement is for those who have worked so hard to get us to where we are today and for the future of my beautiful and Latinx daughters.

It is time to organize. It is time to use and implement the strategies our ancestors gave us to fight against white supremacy. At this very moment I have disengaged from social media in many ways because I am tired. I am sad. I am insulted. I am scared. I am at a loss for words.

I believe there is a new civil rights movement on the rise. It is not a time to stay silent. It is not a time to be an observer. It is not a time to hope and pray things are resolved. It is a time to hope, pray, STAND UP, and SPEAK LOUDLY!

We are on the brink of change in OUR nation and it is time to UNITE, ACT (not react), and RESIST.

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

#race #whiteprivilege #blacklivesmatter #whitefragility #socialjustice #workingtogether

An [informal] open letter to those offended by hashtags related to #race,

It has been brought to my attention that my posts, comments, and ideas about #race offend people. Let me be clear about something. These posts and comments are not about you personally. If you think they are, then you should ask yourself why you feel this way and redirect your anger, uncomfortableness, and difference of opinion to a larger issue—like actively working to change things in society and not me, per se. I am not your problem—the way society has shaped you is the problem. Again, I am not referring to anyone personally because I am not sure who those “people” are exactly. I have never had a face-to-face interaction with anyone who has blatantly said, “What you said about #race #whiteprivilge #whitefragility offends me. Can we talk about it?”

I was going to write a post that would describe and break down what the hashtags above mean, but I never intended this blog to do that. This blog was meant to provide an “interpretation of MY bilingual life,” how I have navigated life as a #bilingual person of color. If MY experiences offend you, my very REAL experiences, things people (usually White) happened to say to ME offend you, then the problem lies within you.

I find it particularly interesting that most White people have not had to talk about their White skin and when we, #POC, bring up #race (even comically) it becomes a “Why are you so angry at us?” or “Isn’t that racist [of you]?” dialogue. I don’t remember a time I haven’t talked about my brown skin and #bilingualism.

For the record, I’m not an “angry Latina with an attitude.” I am simply open to discussing with others issues that are related to language, class, and race in order to gain a better understanding about each other. In fact, I am so interested that I wrote a 300+ page dissertation focused on those issues—so see, my posts about #race are not about YOU—they’re about making this world a better place for Latinx children who come from marginalized communities. I wouldn’t waste my time and energy writing about #whitepeople—history has already done that for us.

Sinceramente,
#letstalk #latinaPhD #racematters #worktogether

In search of the ideal foreign language program for your child? (a post in progress)

Where do you start? Which language do you choose? How do you know which school is the best for your child? How much should it cost? Do all the parents at that school have the same goals? Does it matter? Should there be economic and ethnic diversity? If these are questions that matter to you when choosing a language immersion program then continue reading below.

When I started investigating,  8 years ago,  which language program would be a great fit for my daughter I simply looked at programs that offered Spanish. I failed in considering whether the foreign language programs were a good fit for her emotional and social well-being. One of the goals in writing this post is to offer parents an informed perspective, as a parent and academic, in helping you choose the “right” school for your child.

Please leave any other questions or concerns about choosing the ideal foreign language school for your child in the comments section below.

**this is a rough-draft of an upcoming post

 

 

 

 

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!