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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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.

 

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.

Co-authored a Huffington Post Article about CA’s Proposition 58- LEARN

Please help me in spreading the news about California’s Proposition 58 – (Language Education, Acquisition and Readiness). It will be on the November ballot and we must get California residents to vote YES. Voting YES means ALL students in the state of CA will have the opportunity to receive a multilingual education. This isn’t the first time I have urged the public to become advocates for bilingual education, so please take a moment to read about the proposition and share it with friends, family, and colleagues that can vote in the state of California.

Some may ask why I have an invested interest in seeing this proposition pass. I grew up in Southern California and in a bilingual community up until 8th grade. I personally did not benefit from bilingual education, but would love to see it an option for all students, but, especially students who come from bilingual homes.

Please click on the link below to read the Huffington Post promoting CA Proposition 58.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/american-anthropological-association/save-ca-residents-from-a_b_11387726.html

I am Bilingual or Translanguaging Practices

If you speak to me in Spanish and I respond in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If I start a sentence in Spanish and finish it in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If I can’t remember a word in Spanish, but remember it in English it’s not because I don’t speak Spanish well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.

If you say you like my accent in Spanish, but not my accent in English it’s not because I don’t speak English well it’s because I AM BILINGUAL.