Tag Archives: raising bicultural kid

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

Raising a Bilingual Kid One Generation at a Time Progress juanofwords

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.

What’s The Secret To Raising a Bilingual Kid? …Hiring a Bilingual Nanny!

raising a bilingual kid juanofwords
Is bilingualism in the US more acceptable these days?

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!

How Do You Make Your Child Understand What It Means To Be Undocumented?

how do you explain to a child what it means to be undocumented juanofwords
A scene from ‘Bajo la Misma Luna’

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 .  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?  

Raising a Bilingual Kid… While Dumpster Diving

Lately we’ve been making a lot of trips to the city’s dump sites.  It’s not by desire by any means.  Instead, by obligation.  Por obligación… y más o menos a la fuerza también, I would say.  But the thing is we’ve had a lot of junk to trash, and well, in all honesty, neither one of us has been able to keep up with which day of the month is big trash day.  Here, they only do it once a month.  It might be different in your neck of the woods.  If it is, lucky you!  Anyway, rather than looking up the right day of the month, which would probably be the logical thing to do, we instead, pack up the back of my beat up old pick up truck with as much junk as we can carry, to haul over to the trash dumping site near our house.  It’s about five minutes away.

raising a bilingual kid while dumpster diving juanofwords
Dumpster Diving & Raising a Bilingual Kid

It’s a pretty big space and on the weekends you’d be hard pressed to find it without a line of other trucks – from mini pick ups to trucks with trailer hitches attached – already waiting to dump their trash as well.  Mostly contractors, tree trimmers, people that are obviously doing remodels on their homes, are what you’ll usually find in line.  And then there is us.  Me, Edgar and Anjelica, scarfing down our tacos from Taconmadre, sharing an agua fresca, and fanning ourselves to at least give ourselves the illusion that we are getting a little cooler, while we wait in line.

Oh, did I forget to mention my truck doesn’t have air conditioning?

It doesn’t, by the way.

So, there we sit.  Waiting.  Sometimes five to 10 minutes.  Sometimes 15 to 20, just depending on how many cars are in front of us.  This past weekend, our wait was only about 10 minutes long.  Although in the blistering Texas heat it felt more like an hour.  I had just bitten off a piece of my fajita con queso gordita – this time the cheese was so hot and melted the only place for me to add my green salsa was on top of the gordita – when the guy from the dump site called us over.  As Anjelica turned the corner to drive onto the appropriate parking space to reverse into – she’s much better at reversing in this space than I am – I swallowed the other half of my gordita so I could climb onto the bed of the truck and chunk out all of our trash into the huge metal crate that sits just below where we were told to park.

I did so and we drove off.

A couple of seconds later, I noticed Edgar was so hot he was falling asleep.  We had so much stuff in the half seat behind us that he was sitting up front with us, in the middle – something we rarely ever allow him to do.  It’s much safer for him in the back seat, we always reason.  Not to mention, when he does go to sleep, he’s automatically shielded from the sun by our shadows and the seats between us.  This time, he didn’t have that shield and he was twitching and turning trying to get away from the sun.  Instinctively, I picked up my cap and put it on his head.  My head is much bigger than his, so it pretty much covered all of his face.  He was content, and quickly began to rest a little easier.  That single action, took me back.

In an instant, I was once again in my father’s truck, hiding from the sun myself in his vaquero hat… probably about the same age that Edgar is now.  I remembered the smell of his hat.  It smelled like him.  Like a mixture of heat and sweat.  Like the top of my dad’s head.  As weird as it might sound, it’s still a smell that to this day puts me at ease.  I don’t know why, but it does.

I can’t say that it ever put me to sleep, though, but it did always soothe me… in a way only my father’s sombrero could.  A few minutes later, Edgar sat up and he was in a much better mood.

Go figure?

Raising a Bilingual Kid: 7 Essential Lessons For Any Parent

Raising a Bilingual Kid  7 Essential Lessons For Any Parent juanofwords

It’s probably human nature that anytime we’re not too sure about our own parenting, we tend to think back on our own childhoods.  How did my parents react to that?  What would they have done?  How would they have handled it?  For me, it’s a pretty regular occurrence.  Even cuando no me doy cuenta, the easiest thing to do is to reflect back on some of the essential life lessons my parents have taught us over the years.  I think they’re pretty universal, y por eso I have put them together into these
7 Essential Lessons For Any Parent:

1. Habla Con La Verdad.  Be honest.  Don’t lie.  To others.  And especially not to yourselves.  There’s nothing worse than lying to ourselves.

2. No Seas Maleducado.  Don’t be a smart ass.  A smart mouth.  A sinverguenza.  Be respectful.  Mind your manners.  And show you have some home training.

3. Sé Acomedido.  Be courteous.  Thoughtful.  Offer to help without being asked.  Help that little old lady cross the street.  Remember the Golden Rule!

4. Portate Bien.  Behave.  Act right.  Don’t be mischievous.  This one is especially applicable as we get older and it gets easier and more tempting to be a little bad.

5. No Le Nieges Un Taco A Nadie.  Don’t deny anyone a taco.  Okay, well maybe not literally.  It’s not like we want our kids going out there picking up complete strangers.  Instead, that whenever you’re able to do a good deed for someone else you should… without expecting anything in return.  So long as your not putting your own safety and well being at stake.

6. Respetate A Ti Mismo.  Respect yourself.  If you can’t respect yourself how is anyone else supposed to do it?  Know what you’re worth and don’t be afraid to remind yourself about it.  As many times as you need to!

7. Piensa Las Cosas.  The extension would be las cosas se hacen con calma.  Think about it.  Be patient.  Don’t rush into any decisions.  Take your time and give yourself plenty of time to consider all of your options.   

If you’ve got more lessons to add from your own jefitos, I’d love to read them!

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Raising a Bilingual Kid: It’s Hard for Parents Too!

raising a bilingual kid juanofwords
Bicultural Parents – Ricky and Lucy Ricardo.

I guess I should consider myself pretty fortunate.  Anjelica and I share almost exactly the same heritage.  We were both born here in this country to Mexican parents – from the same estado de San Luis Potosi at that!  We’re both Mexican Americans.  We both speak English and Spanish very fluently.  We’re both equally proud about our culture and heritage.  And most importantly, we both consider teaching Edgar proper Spanish the right thing to do.  The only problem – as I’m sure many of you already know, when it comes to raising bilingual kids, it’s a hell of a lot easier said than done.

Not that it’s impossible – it certainly isn’t – it just requires a lot of time and commitment.

So for all of you parents out there raising bilingual kids – regardless of what level of proficiency you may or may not consider yourselves to be at this task – un saludo and lots of porras!  Keep at it.  ¡Echenle ganas!  And while you’re at it, don’t forget to have a little fun too.  These video clips of the beloved and ultimate bicultural/bilingual couple, Lucy and Ricky Ricardo are certain to put a smile on your face.  They certainly capture what it feels like to be Latino in the US sometimes.  Enjoy!

A special thanks to my friend Jorge Sanchez for sharing these clips! 

Raising a Bilingual Kid: The Importance of Doing ‘Nada’

We used to get up early in the mornings and do nothing.  That was the excitement of our summer vacations.  That we didn’t have to get up groggy, angry and tired to do anything at all.  There was no rush to hurry up and get dressed, wash our faces, and get out of the door to go to school, as we normally did the rest of the year.  En los veranos our time was our own.

raising a bilingual kid juanofwords
Ah... the lazy days of summer. - 50s Kids watching TV Captain Kangaroo by Kay Crain

Seconds, minutes and hours to do with what we pleased.  Or at least, whatever our parents would allow us to.  Usually that meant running around our apartment complex getting into all sorts of trouble, laying on the sofa with our legs hanging off to one side as we watched rerun after rerun after rerun, or just getting into stupid arguments with each other until my mother would get tired of it all and yell at us to “be quiet and do something!”  In Spanish it was more like “¡levantense!  ponganse hacer algo… ¿cómo van a pensar que se van a pasar todo el verano tiradotes alli nomás?  After that, we knew it was time to get up and skedaddle.

It didn’t matter where we went.  What mattered was that we get out of the line of fire.

As I’ve come to learn now, nobody can get you as frustrated and overwhelmed as your own children.  And imaginense we were seven children all together one right after another.  My poor madrecita never stood a chance at peace.  Not when we were around for the summers anyway.  The rest of the year and in between children por lo menos she had our school hours.  Anyway, it kind of got me thinking of how and why my mother used to get so frustrated with us, and why sometimes it’s so easy for me to get frustrated with Edgar for exactly the same reasons.  Como dice el dicho… some things, well, they just don’t ever change.

Though now too, I realize it wasn’t her just being mean for the sake of being mean.  It was her way of showing us she loved us.  “Si no me importaran pues ¿qué tiene? alli los dejaría sin hacer nada todo el día, but since you are mine and I care about you, I want you all to be productive.”  That was it.   That was all my parents wanted for us.  Life had never been easy for them and they just didn’t want us to get under the impression that it would be for us, that somehow or someway we wouldn’t have to struggle.  We all have.  I have.  And for that reason I think it’s so easy for me to get so easily frustrated with Edgar just trying to make the most of his summers too.  I guess in a way I’m afraid he’ll think life is too easy too.

¿Quién sabe?  Who knows why we think the things we do sometimes.

Next time I get frustrated, though, I’m just going to have to remind myself of how much fun my summer vacations used to be.  After all, before you know it they’ll all be gone!  Maybe that’s why every once in a while mamá and papá would just cut loose and have fun with us doing absolutely nada!

Those are definitely some of the moments and memories I cherish most anyway.