Have Bilingual, Latinx Children Become a Commodity?

It is both surreal and ironic to me that this blog post still rings true for so many….

With the rise of dual language education in the U.S., have bilingual, Latinx children become a commodity? In other words, are children who walk into the dual language classroom already speaking two languages possessing a highly valued commodity: bilingualism? The question, though, still remains, whose bilingualism is valued? Is it the “middle class” students bilingualism or is it those students who come from “lower class” homes? To distinguish between “middle” and “lower” class, I’d like to clarify how I am referring to the two kinds of bilinguals. There are those whose parents have a “formal” education and belong to a certain (higher) economic bracket and those whose parents have a “limited” formal education and come from lower economic brackets, generally speaking. Both bilinguals are what we, in academia, call heritage-speakers of a minoritized language (like Spanish).

This past week my little girl completed her first year at a local private Spanish immersion daycare center. At the end of each year the escuelita (little school) puts on a recital where each classroom dances to a Spanish song. The theme was “Los Insectos….and Other Little Critters.” One of the many reasons why I love and chose this escuelita for my daughter is because they value linguistic diversity. As you can see in the very title of the production the teachers at her school chose to translanguage: Spanish and English are used in a single phrase. I love that because it reflects a view of bilinguals drawing from one linguistic repertoire like many of us do in Central Texas. In an earlier post, I wrote about my experience while visiting another Spanish immersion school before deciding where my daughter would attend. It was at that other school where I was informed “We don’t use Tex-Mex here.” What they failed to realize is the importance in being able to communicate with members of our local community, in addition to being able to perform linguistically in academic settings, like the classroom. For this reason I decided to enroll my daughter elsewhere, but also because they insulted a key feature of my linguistic repertoire!

My parents were or would be categorized as working class Mexican immigrants and I was/am a heritage-speaker of Spanish, though when I was in elementary school in the 80’s dual language education was not an option. Now, I identify asa middle-class and highly educated parent of two daughters I am raising with multiple languages. I presume her multilingualism will be a highly valued commodity as local schools try to fill dual language classrooms with “native” Spanish-speakers. What I will continue to strive for, as a parent and academic, is placing greater value in the dynamic ways the Latinx community uses Spanish and English like we do in central Texas!

(Originally posted in 2012 on the SpanglishBaby website)

The Right to a Bilingual Education in California

When Proposition – 58 passed in 2016 it repealed Proposition 227. Proposition 227 eliminated bilingual education for students who speak a language other than English in the state of California. Proposition -58 makes bilingual education programs a requirement in public schools as long as they meet the following requirement.

Community members have the right to request a bilingual education program at their local public schools if 30 students at any given school are considered English Learners. This rule also applies if there are 20 students in any given grade level who are considered English Learners. English Learners are students whose parents have stated on a Home Language Survey that they speak a language other than English at home. School administrators test children whose parents have stated that they speak a language other than English at home to see if they fall along an English Learner continuum. In the state of California, there are several labels used to identify an individual as an “English Learner.” It should be noted that “English Learners” are bilingual children. Many of our bilingual children come from minoritized and immigrant communities. They arrive at our local public schools with a wealth of cultural and linguistic knowledge and it is time for us in California to open our school doors ready to learn from and with them.

That being said, any school community member can request a bilingual education program. In other words, the school community member does not have to be a parent of an English Learner. The website, Ala y Voz (by California Together), has created an array of materials school communities can use to raise awareness about requesting a bilingual education program. The website also includes information about HOW to request a bilingual education program at your local school.

There are several models of bilingual education communities can request and the one that is chosen really depends on the school and community demographics. The model that is highly effective and has gained a great deal of popularity is the two-way immersion dual language model. I recommend those seeking a bilingual education program choose a model that best meets their school needs.

Lets work towards creating awareness about our multilingual communities in the U.S. One way to start is by being aware of our (language) rights and advocating for bilingual education.

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

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.