It’s definitely not a topic we’ve ever shied away from, but it is one we’ve given a lot of thought to. Especially as parents of a bilingualish teenager. See what I did there? It’s a play off of the hit TV show Blackish, in case you’re wondering. What I’m talking about is Raising a Bilingual Kid.
Y’all know I’ve written at length about that topic over the years, haha! So how does one follow up so many blog posts about the same topic? With a video, of course!
That’s what we’re talking about in our latest video from YouTube (we have a channel there, by the way… in case you want to subscribe – we’d greatly appreciate it). Take a look and let us know what your best tips are for raising a fully bilingual or bilingualish child.
I’ve been busy lately. My sister and my niece are in town and that’s very exciting. We’re having a party soon, and well tambiên me ha pegado la hueva a little bit. But I do want to share some funny moments we’ve had recently that I may or may not blog about again in a later post. I hope they put a smile on your face too.
Singing Rancheras for the Soul We’re riding around in the car. I’m singing one of the rancheras on the radio, cause you know that’s what I listen to most of the time to and from work. I like the Raúl Brindis y Pepito show and listen to it religiously every morning. Until recently, I used to listen to Piolin too, pero bueno we all know what happened there. Sad really. I especially like the farandula news and in between those segments you eventually start picking up a lot of the lyrics to the songs too. I have! What I didn’t realize was that Edgar was doing so too. All of a sudden I hear him singing the same song in the back seat of the car también. I don’t say anything, so as to not make him aware, and just smile to myself.
The Fake British Accent
A couple of weeks ago, this very nice reporter from BBC America and I had agreed to meet at one of the park’s here in the barrio on a Sunday morning. He had emailed me before coming to Houston and he wanted to talk about the future of Latino culture in the United States, according to me. I should forewarn you that I don’t know exactly what I blurted out once had had a microphone in front of me… At least I hope his trip wasn’t a complete waste of time. Anyway. The funny thing is, that morning, Edgar decided to come with me, and while I sat down for the interview we had agreed he was going to go play where I could keep an eye on him. Only that was before we got out of the car and introduced ourselves to the reporter and his companion. He immediately went towards Edgar and shook his hand, greeting him with a very British accent. To which Edgar, to everyone’s surprise, especially mine, greeted him back with his own version of a British accent.
None of us could do anything other than laugh. Afterwards, he and I couldn’t stop laughing at how embarrassing the moment had been and to this day he is still completely in shock at his gut reaction. I guess our television viewing habits didn’t help him any either. We’ve been watching Keeping Up Appearances religiously for months now.
Church School for Edgar
Yesterday, Edgar and I again were talking. It was a very brief conversation this time. He was asking about one of my conversations that he had overheard. To throw him off I reminded him that we still need to register him for his first communion classes, to which he replied that he didn’t want to sign up for Catechism classes in Spanish because he doesn’t fully understand the language. My conversation with the BBC America reporter immediately flooded back. ¡Ay Dios mio! Good thing I did make the clarification that we are not the most traditional parents when it comes to bilingualism. And by the way, that does mean Catechism classes will be in Spanish for Edgar.
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.
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.”
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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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.
What are hardworking parents to do these days when they can’t find the time to teach their children the language skills they want? ¿Pues qué más? Hire a bilingual nanny! At least, that’s what the website FindaNanny.net is insinuating in their latest post, 10 Ways Bilingual Nannies Can Benefit Children. Among the reasons they list for this being a sound parenting decision are: bilingual nannies can help children master a foreign language, they can introduce children to a different culture, they can serve as linguistic role models for children, and they can encourage a love of diversity, as well as help bilingual parents reinforce their non-English tongue, among other reasons.
I kind of like that last reason! Reinforcing. Hmm…
Now, I’ll be honest. I don’t really know too much about the FindaNanny network, other than that they brought their article to my attention, and that they apparently can help connect nannies and parents in some way. Still, their reasoning does kind of make sense. We all know how hard it is to get these huercos to be fully bilingual.
My reason for writing this post, however, was not only to tell you about this article. What it brings to mind, at least in my mind, is this question: Is it becoming more acceptable, even more popular maybe, to raise bilingual children in this country? That hasn’t always been the case if it is. Not too long ago the idea of passing a law to make English the official language of the United States was getting a lot of play all over the media. What changed?
I won’t pretend to have the answer to that question. I don’t. Instead, as someone who grew up in a bilingual, bicultural household, and who would very much like to have Edgar do the same, I say “Ojala. Ojala que finalmente we’re gaining a true appreciation for the benefits of bilingualism and biculturalism.”
And if we do hire a bilingual nanny for his/her language and cultural skills, let’s make sure and compensate them accordingly too!
This week, we finally connected the internet to our television at home. Don’t ask me how I did it. The truth is I don’t actually remember. I just kind of kept pushing buttons until it worked. Still, once we got the connection going and we were able to login to our NetFlix account Edgar and I couldn’t agree on which movie to watch together. He likes family and kids movies, which as you all know are mostly cartoons and super hero stories. Not really my cup of té. I prefer comedies, dramas, thrillers and action movies. Think stupid funny. That’s usually my guilty pleasure.
Esta vez, though, we settled on Under The Same Moon. You remember… the mostly in Spanish film about family separation and immigration starring Kate Del Castillo, Eugenio Derbez, America Ferrera, Carmen Salinas, and others, that was so critically acclaimed just a couple of years ago. I’ve seen it myself probably a half dozen times. Each time I can’t stop myself from tearing up like a big old baby when Carlitos finds his mom at the end of the movie. It’s that good! I think so anyway.
Watching the film with Edgar, however, was kind of an eyeopener for me. I guess I’d never really given much thought to what his notion about immigration really was. Sure, he knows that my parents and Anjelica’s parents both came from Mexico to this country as immigrants and that a lot of our relatives still live there now. We’ve explained to him what “crossing the river” and “crossing the border” mean. He’s heard the story about my mom crossing the Rio Grande river with me in one arm and my older brother in the other, sitting on nothing but a rubber tube, over and over again, and he’s probably going to keep hearing about that one forever. We’ve even sat down and talked to him about why some of our family members refer to themselves as mojados.
Sin embargo, I don’t think it had ever fully sunk in. Watching the movie, though, he started asking things like: wait, so if you have papers you don’t have to cross the border? just because he doesn’t have papers he has to hide under the seat? wait, why doesn’t his mom just go back home? why did they just let him get arrested? why didn’t they help him? We tried our best to answer his questions, but the truth is for some of them we just didn’t have the right answers. I don’t know that anyone does.
It got me thinking. I don’t remember my parents ever really sitting us down to explain to us what it meant for people to refer to them as “illegal.” We knew la migra was who we were supposed to hide from. We recognized their green and white trucks when they would drive by and we would always run away from them as fast as we could. We knew that because mamá y papá didn’t have papeles we couldn’t travel past the border town we were living in. They could be captured and deported at the next closest immigration checkpoint. We knew that when we had to leave our home in Texas to try and start a new life in Mexico it was because our parents weren’t supposed to be here… but I don’t think we ever really understood why.
I’m kind of glad they let us figure it out on our own.
Now that begs another question in my mind. How do you explain to a child what it means to be undocumented? Is there really a right or wrong answer? Is it a matter of personal choice? I don’t know. ¿Qué me dicen ustedes?