It Takes a Village

Mis hijos no hablan conmigo 
Otro idioma han aprendido 
Y olvidaron el español 
Piensan como americanos 
Niegan que son mexicanos 
Aunque tengan mi color

-Los Tigres del Norte

If I really stop, think, and admire my Spanish for what it is, my mind is blown that I can speak it as well as I do.  As I tell people my journey of raising my son in a Spanish-only home, they tell me they admire our family, and they also express their doubt at how much longer Fernando will continue to speak Spanish once he begins school.  Legitimately so. As an elementary school teacher, I have seen with my own eyes, students from Spanish speaking countries, entering kindergarten and by the end of the year they are speaking with their peers in English. I also attended a Dual Immersion Parent Workshop held by the Latina Mothers Collaborative and Dr. Olga Grimalt (Founder/CEO of the Multilingual Network) stated how English is a dominant language and that those being brought up in a Spanish-speaking home and/or bilingual home will be inclined to speak English once exposed to it.  To the point where I have been told and have seen children not really know how to speak Spanish and yet their parents do not speak English. I could stop and go into a blog rant now, but I’ll prevail and carry on.

My parents are from Mexico.  My dad was born in DF, grew up in Tijuana, and ended up in East Los Angeles by middle school.  He graduated from Garfield High School and attended about a year of community college (ELAC) before landing a job working for Northrop.  My mom was born in Guadalajara, came to the USA as child to work in the fields, but didn’t start permanently living here until she was about high school age.  She also graduated from Garfield High School. She attended a couple of years of ELAC, transferred to Cal State Los Angeles and graduated with her Bachelor’s degree and teaching credential.  They speak English with a slight accent, but it’s fluent.

As I was working on this blog I began asking myself why it was that even though they spoke English, they chose to speak to me in Spanish.  My parents spoke to each other in Spanish at home and spoke to me in Spanish. I was speaking to my professor-friend about my miraculous Spanish speaking ways and she said that my parents came of age during the East LA Chicano movement where they were proud of their culture, their language, their brownness.  But I never really saw my parents as these activists (unlike their daughter!). I asked my mom about this and her response was simple and deep at the same time:


Mom Text

So when my husband and I decided that we were going to speak exclusively in Spanish at home to our future child, I made it a point to tell my mom that I wanted to speak exclusively in Spanish with her and to feel free to correct me whenever I said anything incorrectly.  This was about five years ago. I only speak to my mom in English when I’m fired up about something and the translations are not coming quick enough in my brain. Otherwise, our conversations, our texts, our arguments, are all in Spanish. And it has helped my Spanish immensely.

It’s the way she speaks to my son, though, that has really been the game changer in Fernando’s ability to speak and understand Spanish.  She speaks to him using academic Spanish. She never did that with my brother nor I, however, she knew and understood how important it was to us to keep our Spanish alive and my mom has taken on this task a la brava.  I don’t know if it’s the teacher in her, or the chingona in her, but she is teaching my son words that I do not commonly use but am now using because he uses them.  It’s like a circle. And it’s working.

For example Fernando has a lot of toy cars.  In order to say this I would normally say something like, “Fernando! Tienes muchos carros!”.  In turn, Fernando says, “Mami! Tengo demasiados carros!”.  

This is the importance of the village.  And sometimes it’s going to be hard to find like-minded people.  But this Spanish/Bilingual movement is contagious. My mom told me that when she took Fernando to the library for Toddler Time, she would speak to him in Spanish and he would speak back in Spanish and all of the grandmothers would start speaking to their grandchildren in Spanish as well.  My mom was convinced that they, too, wanted to prove that their grandchildren were bilingual. I, on the other hand, thought, that maybe these caretakers just needed someone to take that first step to speak Spanish, loudly and proudly, in order to do it, too, and to feel comfortable doing it.  Especially in our community where, as mentioned before, speaking Spanish is still looked down on by some. This would be time for another blog rant, but I move on!

Family is a vital part of the village.  My mother-in-law does not speak English.  She plays with Fernando every weekend for hours.  Fernando has picked up some of her vocabulary that my mom and I find ourselves using.  Then there’s my husband’s twin, who speaks Spanish to Fernando, but the person who has impressed me the most is my sister-in-law.  She grew up in an English-only home, but she makes every effort to communicate with my mother-in-law and with Fernando in Spanish. In a country where we’re surrounded by entitlement, she selflessly adapts to accommodate those that she loves. AND, she’s becoming bilingual.  It’s contagious.

And then there are the non-family members of the village.  The ones that you have to hound, look for, create. There are friends, those are a bit easier to find.  Social media has helped. But then there’s the technical stuff. Like when Fernando began speech services, our amazing Regional Center contact found a bilingual speech location where Fernando was able to receive services in Spanish.  Or there’s making a dentist appointment, “Does the dentist speak Spanish?”, or finding a preschool, or a storytime, or a movie theater experience, etc. Thank goodness for the Pixar Coco Spanish dub where Fernando was able to watch a movie and actually understand what they were saying.

Raising Español is not only for me to reach out to those doing the same, but for those that are doing the same, to reach out to me!  I’ve already had a couple of moms message me on instagram to tell me about bilingual preschools, Spanish story library times, Bamboleo classes, etc.  It’s not easy to find all of these on my own. It takes a village. And ladies and gentlemen, we are slowly but surely growing ours. Ahí la llevamos!

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