Personal Identity Project: Bilingualism

Personal Identity Project: Bilingualism
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So. I’m bilingual. My family is Cuban and Spanish was my very first language. My first words were in Spanish and the people that loved and cared for me during my early childhood spoke Spanish. I was the youngest of five generations for most of my life, with a plethora of extended family. So its safe to say that if you were hanging with me and my mom’s side of the family, their language dominated.

I have always been told that I picked up English from watching Sesame Street on TV. Observing how much Alina has learned from the television, it’s not far fetched. That girl absorbs everything she sees and hears! It’s crazy to think about language, when you have experiences with more than one, and how they enter your life. I honestly do not remember when I started to speak English, and lose Spanish. I am saddened that gaining one meant losing another. But, somewhere along the line, English became my language of choice.

When my parents divorced, my Great Grandmother Margo came to care for my brother and me while my Mom went to work during the day. I was school aged and spoke English primarily by then, but Margo didn’t care. She spoke to us in Spanish, and at the very least, expected us to understand her. And you know what, we would have done anything to earn Margo’s love; she was tender and positive, never spilling an ill word about anyone. It was so many years ago, and I can’t remember what language I used to respond, but I know that having Margo in our everyday lives was paramount to my Spanish speaking abilities.

These days, I still clam to be bilingual, but not in Spanish. I am bilingual in English and Spanglish, at best. If an English speaking person heard me speak Spanish, they wouldn’t think twice about my bilingual abilities. But it wouldn’t take long for a Spanish speaker to hear my inaccuracies. Don’t think you can talk trash about me in Spanish though; my comprehension is on point. I 100% understand any and all dialogue, oral and written.The part where I have to express myself is where I fall short. Maybe that’s the outcome of growing up with mostly adults, and no other kids, who spoke Spanish.

So what does language have to do with personal identity? Pretty much everything, I think. I can’t imagine being who I am without speaking a second language. Being bilingual has opened professional doors and expanded my views on life and the world we live in. Because I speak Spanish, I’ve been able to make a difference in a kid’s life, better communicate in a foreign country and live in multiple worlds at one time. And in a very real way, speaking Spanish has connected me to my roots that simply do not speak English. Spanish {of the Cuban variety} is how I communicate to half of my world, and I reject anyone’s efforts in shutting that half up.

As language relates to Alina, I intend to expose her to Spanish as much as possible. I wrote about the {very personal} motivation behind my decision of language immersion in my recent post for SpanglishBaby {The Promise I Made To Raise My Daughter Bilingual}. Although it was difficult to write, remembering my promise to my grandfather, just hours before he passed away, has renewed my dedication.

Mi queridad Alina,

My biggest worry, and a large reason why I started this project to begin with, is that the outside world will try to define you before you’ve had the opportunity to define yourself. Society may try to fit you into a mold or category because of the way you look or act or speak. And I personally think that isn’t fair. We all have the right to self identify! Being of mixed cultures/races, it is especially important that you are allowed the opportunity to figure this all out in your own way, in your own time. The only thing I want to do, as your protective and defensive Mother, is to expose and enrich your life with tools that will help you figure this stuff out.

As it pertains to being Cubana, gaining an adequate level of fluency in Spanish grants you ownership to the part of you which is me. Of course, regardless if you ever speak a lick of Spanish, you will always be half Cuban. Even still, language can unite a culture or community more powerfully than any other one thing can {blood, skin color, or even the act of claiming it}. For example, I’ve seen first hand how society identifies a Latino. I’ve seen friends identified as “too dark” or “too white” to be Latino, but when they speak Spanish, those barriers diminish. To me, that seems ignorant, because Latinos come in every shade. But that is the reality in which we live… I immerse you in Spanish so that, if the time comes, you can claim your Latina and tell the naysayers to besar su culo.

Another important reason your Daddy and I choose to immerse you in a second language is because we believe its freaking cool. I love being American, but we live in a global community, and I want you to remember that when deciding how to treat others from cultures and countries in which you are unfamiliar. Daddy lived all over the world when he was young, including Mexico for several years, and he loves that you know Spanish. Those experiences have changed his life for the better. Your best friend is half Jewish, and when we are all together, there is a flood of English, Spanish and Hebrew. I love that! Your Auntie is an English speaker, but chooses to reinforce the words you know in Spanish anyway. Language immersion is so much more than just the communication between the two of us, and I am thrilled to be creating a life of language immersion and acceptance for you.

No matter how you connect to me or your Dad, or society, I want you to remember that you have the right to self identify. Your Dad nor I will ever tell you what to be… you can be African American, Cuban, American, mixed, female, a super star, I don’t care! Because in my mind, you are all those things and more. I love you from the deepest, most sincere, parts of my heart. You will always be amazing in my eyes; you can trust that I will believe that even if you don’t. Just today, I called you a “big girl” and when you said “NO! Baby!”, I had to laugh. Yes my sweet, you can still be a baby. You will always be my baby.

Te quiero por siempre,
Su Mama

 

 

Comments

  1. I love it! What a great thing you are doing for your daughter. I wish the same for my own but I won’t lie I want them to be proud of both cultures and not have to choose. I fear all they will go through to find their identity, society isn’t nice. I tend to be more realistic these days with everything we go thru. The path my parents wished for me isn’t what was the outcome and I know the same will be for our kids. I only hope to be as open and loving as you are to your little princess! Un abrazo amiga!

  2. Awesome post, Vanessa.

  3. What a beautiful post! Alina is lucky to have such an inspirational and supportive mama.

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