Bilingual is Better

 Photo by jenny818

Photo by jenny818

One of the things that I love the most about the fact that mi mamá lives so close to us–besides the obvious–is that she’s always teaching my daughter, Vanessa, songs and stories from my childhood that I don’t even remember. These help her enrich her vocabulary without making it a task, but it also reinforces our cultural heritage, an area in which I feel like I always need help.

When she was a baby, it was my mom who started singing “Tortitas” to Vanessa. Her constant repetition of the same lines while my baby girl looked at her with big, open eyes, also gave me the opportunity to re-learn one of the most common songs among Latinos. My mom was also the first one to sing the lullaby, “Duermete mi niña,” to my tiny Vanessa a few hours into her life. Later on came other songs, some of which I remembered better than others…

For the last few months, one of Vanessa’s favorite things is to say: “Cuétame un cueto”. Sometimes she knows exactly what she wants the story to be about (like when wants the one about ‘la bebita que tá naciendo‘ referring to her birth story). Other times, she just wants one of us to tell her whatever story, usually interrupted by a series of questions about ‘¿por qué?‘ and ‘¿quién?‘ peppered throughout the cuento.

Recently, I was delighted by an unexpected exchange between my daughter and her mamama. Somehow my mom had managed to teach her the story of “La Cucarachita Martina” without me even realizing. I don’t know if you’re familiar with the story, but it’s basically about a pretentious cockroach who’s looking for a husband. So she makes herself pretty, sits on the porch and interviews each possible suitor (a series of different animals) who passes by asking them what kind of noises they make at night. (Go here for the full version of the story).

Anyhow, one of the most amazing things about witnessing this exchange between my mom and my 3-year-old–besides the fact that just the cadence of their speech immediately took me back to a forgotten segment of my childhood–was that they actually each had a role which they played out perfectly as the story unfolded. It went something like this:

Mom: “Entonces pasó un león y le dijo:

Vanessa: “Cucayatita Matina que linda tás, ¿te quieres casa conmigo?

Mom: “Tal vez pero ¿cómo haces por la noche?

Vanessa: “Grrrr

Mom: “Ay no, mejor no, porque me asustarás.”

I enjoyed the exchange so much that a few days later I asked them to do it again and–unbeknown to them to avoid any kind of refusal–I recorded the audio on my cell phone. The idea was not only to keep it as a memento of the awesome relationship between my mom and daughter, but also so I can remember how the story goes and I can one day pass it along to my newborn son :)

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