You might remember that back at the beginning of the year we announced we were looking for regular paid contributors and we asked those of you interested to send us your submissions for consideration. We were honored to receive such an enthusiastic response from so many of you. Choosing just four was not easy. In fact, we ended up adding one more regular contributor for a total of five.
We’re happy to announce that this week we’ll be introducing you to each one of them by posting the submission they sent us. You’ll find that they all come from different backgrounds which we hope will bring new and original perspectives on the subject of raising bilingual (or multilingual) and bicultural children.
Today, we’d like you to get to know Chelsea. Please join us in giving her a heartfelt welcome to the SpanglishBaby familia!
Raising Him Bilingual Against All Odds
Everyone who has been through high school foreign language classes will tell you the same thing: if you don’t use it, you lose it. My experience with Spanish has confirmed this sentiment. Luckily, I have used it and am now able to share my knowledge of Spanish language and Latino culture with my 2-year-old son, whose father is Puerto Rican and Cuban.
As a newly single mother, I have gone to great lengths to maintain a stable environment for my little boy. One important element of his world is being immersed in Spanish. After several years of speaking Spanish at home, I am comfortable continuing to do so even without a native speaker around, but have encountered substantial doubt on the part of English-speaking friends, family, and strangers. When I am out in public, I get quizzical looks for being a white, American mom speaking Spanish to an ambiguously mixed-race child. My family seems to feel it is necessary to overcompensate for my lack of English usage by flooding my son with English books, movies, and conversation. While I (fruitlessly) search the city for Spanish-speaking playgroups and more advanced bilingual toys, the window for establishing Spanish fluency and, hopefully, literacy with my child is closing ever more rapidly.
Many of the resources I find, like SpanglishBaby, are directed toward mothers who are intimately familiar with Spanish because they themselves grew up speaking it. I did not, and I am in a unique position of trying to impart this important skill and experience to my child from outside the Spanish-speaking community. This method of fostering my son’s brain development, creativity, and connection to his heritage is supremely important to me, but not yet fully understood by my peers and relatives. Unlike many native speakers, I do not have friends to visit in a Spanish-speaking country, or a mother who knows traditional recetas Latinas. The lullabies and stories I know come from research, not familiarity. Finding the motivation and cultural opportunities to support our linguistic adventure is more difficult than it is for others.
There are days when I am mentally exhausted from thinking in Spanish, but having to narrate every moment from breakfast to bedtime in my second language keeps my Spanish from turning rusty and makes me grateful for this multicultural world and the idiosyncrasies of our multilingual brains.
Someday, my son may decide not to speak Spanish daily or may not find ample opportunity to do so. Still, gringa that I am, I feel as strongly about teaching him Spanish as I did about extended breastfeeding and staying home with him for as long as possible. I want him to know that I gave him everything I had, especially when the things I have will ultimately be essential to his ability to define who he is. Whenever I feel like an impostor of a native speaker, I try to see ten or twenty years into the future, to when he converses comfortably with both sides of the family and finds it relatively easy to pick up a third or fourth language.
Through writing for SpanglishBaby, I hope to connect with other nonnative speakers raising bilingual children and discuss the challenges and isolation of this lifestyle choice.
Adding regular contributors is one of the big changes we’re implementing this second year, but there will be a few more to come starting with our new look which we plan to unveil very soon!