Bilingual is Better

Photo by malias

Photo by malias

Week of Mamás Blogueras is going strong and we couldn’t be happier with the stories these amazing women have posted. If you missed the first two entries in this series, you can click here and here to catch up.

Today’s post is by poet and writer, Violeta García-Mendoza. Violeta and her husband adopted three children from Guatemala and have made a commitment to raise them bilingual and bicultural with strong connections to their heritage. So much to admire about this woman!

You can find her blogging and writing at Multi-Culti Mami and Turn People Purple.

Children who are adopted internationally, even as they gain a family, still lose another family and country of origin. Knowing this, when my husband (American) and I (Spanish-American) decided to adopt our three children from Guatemala, we committed ourselves to raising them in a way in which we would honor their hyphenated identity to the best of our abilities. So that they would not lose one more thing. So that they would be able to exist in their two countries and cultures (and in the in-between) ultimately (I know that the ups and downs are inevitable) with self-confidence. It’s a gift I think any adoptive family can attempt.

Violeta and her family

In our family, our action plan grows along with our kids. But with two three-year-olds and one almost two-year-old, these are the five areas in which we’ve focused our efforts at strengthening our son and daughters’ heritage and identity:

Naming

The thing about names- they’re supposed to fit you, tell your story. Since our kids had a more complex story right from the start, our job was to give that story the right title. And so, in a collaboration between my husband and I, and our children’s birth mothers, we named our three children over a period of a couple years. Our oldest daughter and son have first names picked for their meaning by my husband and I, and middle names picked by their birth mothers; our youngest daughter’s names were chosen after special people, by all of us together. Their names anchor them to the places and people to which they belong. In a fit of bicultural bravery, I even rallied to have all of our kids have both my husband’s and my last name as their last name.  All together-as is Hispanic tradition. Like a security blanket.  Here, for school, they shorten their name and just go by their father’s last name. But if and when they travel to a Latin country, or they want to use them all here, they’re legally available for them. And even though I never ever have enough room for them on any form, I think that can’t be a bad thing

Extended “Family”

When we had our children baptized, we chose one American godmother for them, and one Guatemalan madrina.  Their madrina is a woman who we’ve known since we first traveled to Guatemala to visit our children during the adoption process. She is the woman who first taught me the word “pachita” (rather than Spain’s “biberon”),  a woman who has watched them grow (in person and through pictures), who has so much love for each of our children, and who has become, over our now three years of friendship, like a part of the family. We wanted to honor her by actually making her a part of the family. For our children, this has the added benefit of a sense of another personal tie to their home country. Though we don’t have contact with their birth families, we at least have frequent contact with their madrina and her large family, and this extended community gives me peace of mind as reinforcements. I have confidence that they will teach me expressions I don’t know, pass on specifically-Guatemalan news and traditions, and look out for the well-being of our children.

Food

It’s important to me that our kids grow up eating and learning how to prepare at least some of the dishes that they’d traditionally eat in Guatemala, in addition to the Spanish and American classics their father and I bring to the table. I just think it’s their birthright. I think about how I’d feel if I didn’t have a weakness for manchego or know how to make a mean paella huertana, and it gives me the ánimo to learn how to cook more Guatemalan foods. Admittedly, because our children are still so little and I’m just now getting some peace back in the kitchen, I’m behind in this. But I do know how to make a decent pollo en pepian dulce and a good guacamole.  I’m working on the tres leches cake. And, since I had no clue as to how to begin to make these, last Christmas we ordered tamales to eat on Nochebuena.

Origins Gallery

Floor to ceiling in our upstairs hallway, we have what I’ve affectionately named our “origins gallery”: photographs of the places where each of us were born- Madrid, Pittsburgh, Guatemala City, Mazatenango. Already, our children know which photograph belongs to each person in the family and will point them out to visitors. The photographs are some of many other visual artifacts of our origins we keep throughout the house, but maybe the most beautiful illustration of how different pieces can fuse together.

Culture

Since moving to a new house this last year, we now have Direct TV and can watch not only Spanish language TV, but specifically Guatemalan programming. I admit it, I am a faithful viewer of at least one novela at a time and I subscribe to People en Español and Vanidades. It’s important, I think, for the kids to grow up with these touchstones of pop culture around them: musicians, actors, athletes, news makers- not just from Guatemala, but from Central and Latin America. Growing up in the US, they’ll have that without much effort on our part; the Latino counterpart takes more work, but it’s worth it to us so that, as adults, they have a cultural knowledge base that reflects their hyphen.

I know this plan of action will look different over the years.  The important thing is just having one.  I hope, thanks to it, our children will grow up to identify as Guatemalan-born, American-raised people, as bilingual and bicultural.  As at home in their own skin and story.

Tomorrow’s Mamás Blogueras post is by Mónica Olivera Hazelton from Latin Baby Book Club and Mi Cielito Lindo. She gives us useful tips on using bilingual and bicultural literature to supplement bilingual education.

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