Raising a Bilingual Kid

For brown little boys and girls

For brown little boys and girls

Photo by Anjelica Cazares

We have a responsibility to remember who we are, where we’ve been, and where we come from! I may be going off on a tangent here in a second, so consider this your warning. Tonight, I was reminded once again why having a voice, for me, was ever even important. Not to say that I think I have a huge voice, or that I’m even reaching tens of thousands of people, or anything like that. You all know that as of late I haven’t been writing nearly as much as I used to. I’m not going to make excuses for myself.

I’ve been busy.

I’ve been working long hours.

And most days when I get home I just want to veg out and do absolutely nothing.

Just sit in front of the television set and watch my novela, have dinner with Edgar and Anjelica, and spend time with them doing absolutely nothing… or at least nothing that eventful. Our life, in truth, has become pretty comfortable. We’re always trying to make the most of our time together, and before you know it we’re laying in bed, waking up again the next morning, to get going all over again.

But tonight. Tonight, I was reminded again that somewhere inside of me is still that young little lost boy who never dreamt of going farther than his circumstances would have allowed him to go. It never once would have dawned on me back then that my words could have an impact, even on a single person. I was a different human being back then. A more humble one. A simpler one. A more innocent one. A more naive one. A boy whose circumstances could have defeated him. A boy who could have chosen not to dream.

But for whatever reason, I chose to dream.

Tonight, when I was face to face with myself as that young boy again, I couldn’t help but getting a little choked up at how defenseless I must have been. I was a boy wanting to take on a world that didn’t even make sense to me. There weren’t any role models for me back then. At least not people that looked like me or were doing the things I wanted to do. And yet that didn’t stop me. I honestly don’t know why?

Y no es que le quiera echar mucha crema a mis tacos, but something inside me told me I had to keep pushing myself. I had to make something of myself. I had to make my life mean something.

En realidad, I don’t know that I’ve done that yet. Actually, I know I haven’t. The point of this post, though, is to say to those little brown boys and girls out there, like me, that it is always okay to dream and reach for the impossible.

Coming from nothing is not an excuse to say “I can’t” or “I never will.”

You can. And you will.

I believe in you.

¡Chinelas con estos huercos!

We had Nintento.

Kids today have Vine.

We had VCRs.

They have bluetooth and DVD players.

We had cassette tapes and then CD players.

They have iPods and iPhones.

We had beepers.

They have iPads and tablets.

We had watches with cartoons and superheroes on the wristbands.

They have smartwatches with cameras and touch screens.

Today, Edgar saw me playing with Vine and said “hey, is that Vine?  One of my friends in class is on Vine.  She asked me if I had a Vine too.”

Sigh… they’re in elementary school.

I know.  That’s kind of hypocritical of me considering how much I employ social media and networking sites on a constant basis… and considering the fact that sometimes Edgar is in my pictures and videos too.  But come on!  Elementary school!

I tried to deny it, but he didn’t believe me.

Oh well, he’s still not getting an account.

¡Ya mero!  ¡Nomás lo que me faltaba!  

For Raising Boys: Is Being a “Drill Sergeant Dad” Required?

For Raising Boys: Is Being a Drill Sergeant Dad Required?

Boys to Men.

My father was not a drill sergeant.  The truth is I didn’t really have one of those growing up.  Except that is if you count the neighbor kids at the Bali Hai apartments, who were always up for torturing each other in the name of “proving who was tougher.”  I very rarely was the toughest one in the bunch, I can tell you that right now.  My methods were more flight than fight, and as a result I became quite good at determining when it was a good time to run and hide.

If anything, my older brother was the one responsible for “toughening me up.”  He didn’t like me saying no and backing down from anyone.  To him it was always better to go down fighting and the size or reputation of his opponent never really mattered.

Yo en cambio, I would always size up my competition first and scan the room or space for the easiest and closest exits to me.  I don’t like to say that I was a “scary cat,” but the truth is I was.  It wasn’t only about physical fights either.  Because I never really tested my own strength against other kids, my age or bigger, in other aspects of my life it became easier to circumvent the undesirable feeling of not knowing how I could or would measure up to others, physically.

In school, on tests, on reading reports, on anything academic really, I was confident.  I knew my abilities were strong and I would gladly challenge anyone to go up against me.  But back at home, at the Bali Hai, in the parking-lot-basketball-court, in the empty lots of grass where we would play, my sense of how much I was really capable of was pretty much nonexistent.

When we’d wrestle and pretend we were the fighters from the WWE, I always tried to go up against my little brother.  If we were running and all of the sudden everyone would jump over a fence, I would either turn around and run the other way or find a way to pretend I jumped the fence too (even though nobody would actually see me do it).  Eventually, I just started avoiding any situations that might require me to physically compete with others.  I was a “sensitive boy” I guess you could say.

My father never questioned me or pressured me to be any tougher either.  In hindsight, I’m not really sure why.

And lately I’ve been kind of wondering what would have happened if he had?  Would I have been more pelionero?  Would I have been more valiente?  Would I be sitting here now writing out this anecdote and sharing so much about myself so openly?   

I kind of wish he had.  Not because I want to be a tough guy, but because now that Edgar is in my life I find myself wanting to push him harder than anyone ever pushed me.  Not in the sense that I want him to see me as a drill sergeant.  Instead, because knowing now what I didn’t know then, I think that challenging myself at every step of my life would have made more of a confident person sooner.  It wasn’t until I was well into my late teens and early adulthood that I began to really challenge myself and discover my own physical strength.  I understand it now.  I know what I am capable of.

The thing is, whether it’s PC or not, boys do turn into men, and men are expected to be strong, to be physical, and to not back down from challenges.  I want that for him.  And in the process I want him to build his self confidence by not being afraid to challenge himself.  He deserves that, I think.

That’s also the reason why today when the basketball bounced into the neighbor’s yard I made him jump over the fence to go get it.  He was hesitant at first, thinking and telling me that he couldn’t do it.  I sat down and told him he could and that we weren’t going inside until he did.  I encouraged him.  I walked him through the process.  And I even offered him a boost from this side of the fence to the other.  In the end he didn’t need it, and when he jumped back over and ran inside exhausted, I yelled at him “Good job!”

That’s all I would have wanted.

That’s not to say I’m criticizing my father.  He had his reasons and his methods, and while he might not have been a drill sergeant, he has always been a great father.  

The generational differences in Latino families are funny

The generational differences in Latino families are funny

Loaded for vacation by Hans Hansson.

So the other day my sister, her husband and her kids were getting ready to go out of town.  They had packed, loaded up the truck, and we were all just sitting around talking and laughing while they finished getting ready to leave.

My sister has two teenagers, one preteen, and the baby of their family who just recently hit double digits in her birthday celebrations.  They are a loud and rambunctious bunch that I just adore.  And there we were, when all of the sudden my brother in law came out of the room, having just changed from shorts and chanclas to blue jeans, a collared shirt, sneakers, and a cap.

The following conversation ensued and I just couldn’t help but giggling inside (like a school girl):

My eldest niece:  Why is daddy all dressed up?

My youngest nephew:  I don’t know… mommy was putting makeup on earlier?

It was past midnight when all of this conversation took place.

My eldest niece:  What the heck?  Mom was putting on makeup?  “Ma!  Why were you putting on makeup?  Where are we going, to a gala or something?”

My eldest nephew:  I don’t know they’re weird.

Then all four of them, plus Edgar, busted out in laughter.

Two things struck me right then.  One, the generational differences between our generation and theirs are so apparent that they even show up in the minutest of situations, like how we get ready to go out of town.  My nieces and nephews would have been perfectly comfortable traveling in their pajamas!  We, the adults, don’t do that of course!   Not normally anyway.  There’s a sense of personal pride in putting your best foot forward by trying to look presentable in every situation.  ¿Apoco no? 

And two, that we are all old enough to not fully understand what it really means to “just be chilling.”

Pero you know what?  I think I’m okay with that.

Bilingual Living: Why Language and Culture Matter when Parenting

hola! by Salil Wadhavkar juanofwords

hola! by Salil Wadhavkar

It’s no secret that I’m not the most structured when it comes to teaching bilingualism.  We’ve talked about it before, in past blog posts.  It’s not that fluency in English and Spanish for Edgar is not important to me.  It is.  For more reasons than I can explain, pero desde luego not the least of which is his own personal benefit in the future.  I’ve read a lot of the statistics.  I’ve heard and discussed the meticulous methods one can ensure a child becomes bilingual.  They are great, believe me.  But I wish I could be that disciplined and good about sticking to a plan.

The reality is I’m not.  And the more time I’ve had to think about it the more I’ve come to the realization that I don’t want to be.  The thing is the more we’ve stopped pushing and instead have let Edgar discover and learn Spanish on his own, as well as understand his own culture and identity, the more he seems to have embraced all of it.  Of course, we do have the added benefit that a large part of our families only communicate with him in Spanish.  And that certainly cannot be discounted as anything less than a HUGE HELP!

Still, whatever your method, I honestly believe there are not any right or wrong answers when it comes to teaching bilingualism and culture to our children.  The important thing is to do it and to do it because it will help them out more than anyone else in their futures.

And speaking of that, here are some pretty cool statistics from Univision that I’ve been aching to find a reason to share for quite some time now:

  • 62% of Hispanics between the ages of 18-34 have a high to medium cultural connection
  • 66% self-identify as Hispanic
  • 29% of the total Hispanic population are defined as Millennials (18-34)
  • 1 out of every 5 Millennials today is Hispanic
  • By 2020 that number will be closer to 1 in 4

This was also the main subject of discussion at last month’s Austin AdFed Hispanic Marketing Symposium, which I had the pleasure of attending and speaking in.

Their study carries a lot of other cool data, but the message that resonated the most with me was this one: That language and culture are less about defining what it means to be Latino and more about connecting and communicating with each other in authentic ways.

Who knows what that will mean for Edgar’s generation in the years ahead?

No, I was not compensated by Univision or anyone else.  I’m just kind of a dork when it comes to statistics and data about Latino culture and identity. 

The 25 Greatest Things I’ve Learned About Being a Dad, in My Short Experience

25 greatest lessons on being a dad juanofwords
For Father’s Day this year I want to celebrate my own father, and father’s everywhere for that matter, by sharing a couple of the things that I have learned along the way in this journey we call parenting. ¡Feliz Día de los Padres!

25. Parenting is hard work.

It is.  No one ever prepares you for that either.  And the older they get the bigger their problems can get.  There will be days when you want to just ask why.  Why me!?  Hang in there.  It gets better.

24. Children hear and see everything.

They do!  I can’t tell you how many times Edgar has repeated something we’ve said to each other in the car, ya saben en confianza, almost always at the most inappropriate of times.  We couldn’t do anything else besides laugh… nervously.  Repeat after me.  You are not above telling your kids “you better not repeat this to anybody!”

23. I am GREAT at investigating and getting to the bottom of things!

Ask anyone.  They’ll tell you I am a regular Sherlock Holmes when it comes to snooping around, eavesdropping, acting aloof, fishing for information, and Anjelica’s favorite by far, playing 21 questions.  I have also mastered the art of standing quietly in a dark spot without making a single sound or finding the perfect places to hear and not be seen.  I should add that to my Linkedin account!

22. Yelling at the top of your lungs can feel really AMAZING!

Not necessarily at the kids, although sometimes one has to do what one has to do.  Yelling at the top of your lungs can be a huge release.  I can’t say that this is exclusive to parenting because I have always been a yeller when I get mad.  I get mad and I get loud.  It’s just my nature.

21. It can also lead to some pretty painful headaches.

Although yelling too loudly and too often can lead to wrinkles at the top of your forehead and throbbing pain inside of your skull.  You have to find that right balance between too much yelling and just enough.

20. Love leads to silliness.

I used to be much more serious I remember.  Now.  Not so much.

19. You are always a hero in your kid’s eyes.

Regardless of how awful you might be at playing sports, drawing, coloring, cooking, driving, etc., etc., when you look into your child’s eyes your reflection is always strong, courageous and beautiful.  Learn to see yourself through their eyes.  And then hold on to that reflection because it won’t be there forever.

18. Love means sometimes giving in when you really don’t want to.

The petty things in life aren’t really all that important I’ve learned.

17. Turning into your parents is not really all that bad.

And you’ll actually be grateful for all the times they yelled at you, pointed out your mistakes, made you cry, and forbade you from doing something you really wanted to do.  You’ll aspire to do half the job your parents did, if you’re lucky.

16. Every parent does the best job they possibly can.

You’ll understand the mistakes.  You will make your own mistakes and see things through a new light.

15. Forgiveness does heal old wounds.

Eventually, if you’re lucky, you will find it in your heart to forgive the mistakes that were made during your childhood.  It’s good for your soul.

14. No parent is perfect.

Making this realization is probably one of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned.  Although that doesn’t mean we should strive for mediocracy.  You live and you learn.  And then you try harder.

13. Men do cry.

Contrary to what we might have been told, letting out a couple of tears doesn’t make us any less men.  Los hombres tambiėn lloran.  I learned that from my own father.

12. Principles do matter!

Much more than we ever imagined when our parents used to tell us “it’s the principle of the matter.”  FYI: values are pretty important too.

11. Nothing is beneath you when it comes to putting food on the table.

My mother used to sell tortillas, tamales, tacos, whatever she could get her hands on, in order to put food on the table.  My dad spent hours, days, months, years, working in the hot sun, earning minimum wage or less sometimes to make sure we never went without.  We are capable of the same trabajando honradamente.  

10. Sometimes the smallest things can make the biggest impact.

Time is the single most important thing you can give a child.  The big gifts and toys al rato están tirados por ahí.  Name brands are pretty inconsequential too.

9. Happy tears do exist!

And when you cry happy tears your heart and soul rejoice.

8. Sometimes words get in the way.

I’ve learned that hugs are the universal language for showing you care.  Especially when you can’t find the right words to express what you really want to say.

7. Yelling is not always the answer.

There’s a dicho for this – se atrapan más moscas con miel que con vinagre.  Yup, basically.  That sums it up.

6. Growing up doesn’t mean growing out of fun.

You’re never too old to have a little fun.  Life gets in the way a lot of times with work, responsibilities, bills, bills and more bills, but don’t ever stop embracing your inner dork.  He becomes more and more important as the years go by.  Be a payaso and be proud.

5. Faith can move entire mountains.

I skipped a lot of my catechism classes as a teenager.  I was expelled from my confirmation classes.  I would think about how much my knees were hurting when my mother would make us rezar el rosario with her.  But now, I am a man of faith.  I believe in a higher power.  I pray.  I ask for guidance.  And in darkest hours, I hope that my faith is strong enough to pull me through.

4. A sacrifice is not always a sacrifice.

My mother used to always say con que ustedes tengan que comer yo estoy bien.  I’m almost certain there were times her and my father’s stomachs were hungry and growling with desperation, but they never let us know.  At some point you decide that you will volunteer for pain, heartache, discomfort, danger, and so many other things so long as your kids don’t have to experience the same.

3. Respect is earned not demanded.

“Because I said so!” will only take you so far.  Humility, patience, and more patience, are much more effective tools for dealing with difficult situations.

2. I am much more capable of giving love than I ever imagined.

Love has a funny way of catching up to you.  It will make you grow as a person.  It will make you stronger.  It will make you more confident.  It will make you appreciate and accept yourself as you are.  And eventually it will make you wiser.

1. A child’s love is unconditional.

And finally the biggest lesson I have learned so far is that your child’s love is unconditional.  Regardless of how many mistakes you make along the way, they will always see you as their parent. And love you.  They will always be your children in your own eyes and heart.

Back to top

  • RSS
  • Twitter
  • Tumblr
  • Facebook
  • LinkedIn
  • YouTube