parents

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.

Sorry, Kiddo. We Are Not That Cool!

we're not that cool parents juanofwords

In every parent’s life, there comes that moment when despite all of our best efforts we have to come to terms with facing the reality… well, of our reality.  It’s not a pleasant experience and very rarely do we get to choose when it happens.  Most of the time it’s at the most unexpected of times and in the most bizarre and/or random of situations.  ¡Ya sé!  Listen to me, the “all experienced” parent trying to tell you about how to raise your own kids.  I’m not.  I’m just as nervous and worried as the next parent.  How the hell am I supposed to know what to do?!  This is my first time after all.

Pero bueno, we have to give each other valentía.  

For me, this aha moment just kind of happened over the weekend.  Bueno, I’m probably making more of it than what it was.  But that’s just my way!  So there we were, driving to visit my parents over the weekend as is pretty customary for us.  I forget what we were talking about, but it might have had something to do with work or blogging, or vlogging – poor Edgar he has to listen to a lot of these conversations – when all of the sudden he asked “can I get a cell phone?”  Now, he’s asked this question before although it’s always been half kidding.  You know, the way a seven year old might ask if they can keep the phone that you just stopped using because you bought another one, not really understanding that without a service plan there  aren’t really a lot of frills to owning a phone.  This time though, he was serious.

I know because only recently have we begun to let him use our smartphones and other mobile devices on a regular basis.  I know because he started talking about “a phone with internet” and “so I can get on Netflix and YouTube” and all that other good stuff.  I know because his cousins have, and have had, the internet on their iPods, iPhones and other devices and have been teaching him about it even if they haven’t really realized it themselves.  Of course, pues desde luego como estarán pensando, this is pretty normal for his age and the times that we are living in right now.  What it really made me kind of start hyperventilating about was all the implications that a phone means.

It means that he’s going to “have to have” someone to talk to and text on that phone.  That he’s going to have to have “a life” of his own pretty soon.  That, yes, he’s moving on to another grade and another year closer to high school and graduation.  That pretty soon he’s not going to look up to us or listen to everything we say to him just because we’re his parents.  It means that pretty soon we’re going to stop being cool and he’s going to probably realize that we don’t always know everything.  That sometimes we’re just kind of winging it.  But worst of all, what that means is that the little boy who’s sleeping in the next room right now is going to eventually stop being our little boy.

He’s going to grow up!

That terrifies me.  To be completely honest.

Granted I know there are so many other parents out there facing much tougher challenges today with their own kids.  I don’t pretend to compare myself to anyone.  But en toda sinceridad how do we know?  How do we know that we are doing a good job?  How do we know when our kids are really ready for a cell phone or not?

We gave him the old “you have to prove to us that you’re responsible enough for a phone” routine… pero en verdad, I’m not really ready for him to have one.  Which kind of made realize something about myself too.  I’m not as hip of a parent as I used to think I was.  I’m actually pretty darn old school in fact.

Pobrecito, he ended up with parents from the 1900s instead of the new millennium!

Edgar Chose Selena Quintanilla Perez For His Social Studies Project: We’ve Got Material For That!

selena quintanilla perez social studies project juanofwords

Se los prometo that he made the selection entirely on his own!  En serio.  For reals.  No, but like for reals.  Yesterday when I got home the first thing Edgar told me when I got off the truck was “guess who I picked for my social studies project?”  I was a little confused and wasn’t entirely sure what he was talking about.  “Selena.  Selena Perez!  I picked Selena Perez,” he shouted excitedly smiling and looking directly at me to evaluate my reaction.

“You mean Selena Quintanilla Perez,” I responded slyly.

“I know… I forgot the Quintanilla part when I put her name down on the sheet,” he responded.

I’m not even gonna try to front.  My immediate reaction – ya saben in my panzota - was excitement!  Immediately I thought about how relieved I was that he had not said Selena Gomez instead.  Y’all know what I’m talking about.  There are actually kiddos walking around right now thinking that Selena Gomez is the biggest Selena there ever was.  That’s just wrong!

“Selena was named after Selena Quintanilla Perez, mijito!”  That’s always my reaction to such an offense.  The kids just kind of stare at me blankly like “what?…”

My brain started working, and churning, y dando vueltas y vueltas.  “I interviewed her widower last year,” I bragged to Edgar.  He didn’t really understand the significance of that.  Later on Anjelica told me too who Edgar had selected for his school project.

“You have that Selena doll,” she says to me.  It’s true I do.  It’s a collector’s item.  Don’t laugh at me!  “He can take it to school…”

“NOOOOOOO!!!!! Not my Selena doll,” I yell.  Then I kind of embarrassingly retract and explain more calmly and “logically” why there ain’t no chance in hell my Selena doll is walking out of the house and into a school full of curious and careless huercos!  Who knows what those kids would do to my 17 year old Selena doll that’s still neatly stored away in her original box.  I also have tons of magazines from when she first passed away that I collected.

ADM!  I am ridiculous!

Oh well, at least Edgar knows Bidi Bidi Bom Bom has absolutely nothing to do with Selena Gomez!

Now to make his social studies project Reina del Tex-Mex worthy!

Raising a Bilingual Kid: One Generation at a Time – Progress

Raising a Bilingual Kid One Generation at a Time Progress juanofwords

Familia!

Every once in a while, if we’re lucky, and it doesn’t happen all that often at all, we kind of get a glimpse at ourselves that we normally wouldn’t otherwise see.  I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true.  It happened to me just the other day.  A local university student was interviewing me for a class assignment about something that somehow had something to do with my background and my being a blogger now.  Don’t ask me why or how, I really don’t know.  Anyhow, I was running my mouth and blabbering about a million things all at once – come to think of it, I wonder if she was able to pull anything useful from her notes? – when it happened!

As I was saying what I was saying I realized just exactly what I was saying.

I started to choke up, but managed to play it off like it was just a cough or something in my throat.  We were talking on the phone so she couldn’t see that actually my eyes were in fact a little watery.

I think the question had started off with her asking me something about how I became a writer.  I told her how growing up my parents had always worked either outside (my dad) or cleaning houses (my mom), how for me gaining an office job like the ones my sisters had at the time was the ultimate level of success because it meant I didn’t have to clean houses or work outside, how I had always enjoyed writing since I was a kid but had long ago then told myself I would not be a starving artist trying to sell my words, and that in the irony of life that was precisely what I ended up doing after college.

I told her about how lucky I have been along the way to meet such compassionate and giving mentors.  How my entrepreneurial spirit is the product of my mother, and my love of words the product of my father.  Who despite both only having an elementary level education have taught me so much more about life than I could have ever learned in any classroom.

Then I started talking about Edgar.  It hit me in that moment that the plans he has for himself are so much more sophisticated than mine were at his age.  That the doors of opportunity – excuse my being corny for a bit – available to him are so much wider than they were for me.  That perhaps for him the limit is not an office job away from the sun, a broom or a mop… and here is where I kind of lost it for a bit.  I know.  Soy bien chillón.  It’s true.  I guess I had just never processed this truth, about him, about me, about our family.  It made me wonder what my own parents must have thought when they made this realization about us.  And in a very rare and honest way it kind of gave me an “aha” moment I hadn’t experienced before.

There will be brighter days ahead for him, for me, and for us!

There will be for you as well.

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Raising a Bilingual Kid & Reading Culturally Significant Books – ‘Caramelo’

Raising a Bilingual Kid Reading Culturally Significant Books Caramelo juanofwords

One of my favorite reads.

Shut up stupid!  That was the line that got Edgar cracking up last night while we were reading Caramelo by Sandra Cisneros.  This is my second time reading the book.  His first.  After that, it took me all of five minutes to get him to stop laughing en carcajadas so we could continue reading.

Okay… so the truth is I didn’t really try.

It was rather rewarding just to listen to him instead.

You see, we had just finished reading the story of Oliver Twist together a couple of days ago, and all of a sudden I thought What if I read Caramelo to him?  Would he enjoy it?  That was it.  My mind was made up, and our next read together would be sort of an experiment.  I guess you could say a blind experiment on one side.

An experiment in what? – you might ask.  In his bilingual and bicultural integration, I guess.  I’d like to tell you there was a very well thought out reason for wanting to test him on this, pero, well you all know me better than that.  I’m not that sophisticated.  I just want to see if he can relate to her story, and by how much.

Edgar has only been to Mexico when he was too young to remember.  Unlike me, his summers haven’t been spent running up and down the arroyos of a rancho, exploring the wonders of a foreign but familiar land, entertaining family with his English and pochismos.  Making everybody laugh when he can’t get more than a couple of sentences out in Spanish before blabbering a bunch of incomprehensible vocabulary in Spanglish.  He doesn’t know what it means to have to wait for running water.  To boil dirty green water from the local pond to take a bath instead.  To buy galletas by the pound.  To ride in the back of a pick up on the way to town.  To see a young kid his age hustling for the first time.  To feel guilty for having better things than everybody else.  And then having to experience the heartbreak of saying hasta pronto.

He doesn’t know, but I wondered if he would understand it.

At first, I think he was confused.  Now, I think he gets it.  How do I know?  By the smile on his face.  The giggling after certain paragraphs.  The way he just lays next to me mentally creating a picture of the words being read.  It’s something neither Anjelica or I ever had at his age.  To be able to see so much of ourselves, our culture, our families, in one book.  It’s making the second read of Caramelo, for me, very rewarding and satisfying on a whole new level.

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