Bilingual is Better

Photo credit: moi

My mom just got back from a month-long trip to Perú, our homeland, and as soon as she landed, I wanted to know when she’d be over. Not only did I miss her and wanted for her to see her nietos (especially since my baby boy, Santiago, has changed so much in the past few weeks), but also because I knew she was coming back with a suitcase full of awesome goodies from back home.

As soon as my mom confirmed the dates she was going on this trip, I started writing up mi lista de encargos—the long list of things (from food items to clothing items) that I, like many immigrants, ask for whenever anyone in my family goes back home. I guess it’s a way for me to feel closer to where I came from and, for those of us raising bicultural children, it’s a great way to bring alive part of our culture for our little ones, even when we’re thousands of miles away from it.

The number one thing on the list was children’s books in Spanish, of course. No translations and preferably those penned by Peruvian authors which, unfortunately, are impossible to get here. I didn’t really have any specific titles, so I just asked my mom to visit the children’s section of all the local bookstores we like to frequent whenever we go back to Lima. She reads to Vanessa all the time, so I knew she’d had no problem choosing the kind of books su nieta would enjoy.

I did also send her on an expedition of sorts in search of the method  Peruvian school teachers use to teach children to read. For a while now, I’ve noticed Vanessa has taken a real keen interest in words and, whenever I read to her, she want to know what each word I’m reading looks like. Her preschool teacher told me she was probably ready to start learning the basics of reading, but I haven’t been able to figure out how to do it Spanish, which is the recommended language since it’s her first one.

I normally also like to ask for at least a couple of books for myself, especially if I haven’t had any luck finding them here or if it’s something new from a Peruvian author which will probably never make it all the way over here. There’s also an excellent narrative journalism magazine, Etiqueta Negra, I love to get my hands on if at all possible—even though it exists on digital form, I guess there’s just something about holding the hard copy.

Once I was done with the encargos of the literary kind, I moved on to clothing items. The list included anything from cotton (Perú’s Pima cotton is world renown for its softness) dresses for my daughter to Alpaca socks for my husband’s feet to stay warm during the cold, Colorado winters. I usually also ask for some kind of silver jewelry for myself and adornitos típicos (small knickknacks made by hand) or Alpaca scarves to give away as gifts.

In terms of food, very little can be brought back to the U.S. due to customs regulations. When we first moved here, I used to ask for a lot of Peruvian candies—which my friends back home in Perú found incredibly amusing since we were always asking those who traveled to the States to bring back American candy and chocolates. I guess you don’t know what you have until you lose it. I don’t do that anymore, but I always do ask for at least two boxes of alfajores (simply put: manjar blanco, our version of dulce de leche, stuffed between two shortbread cookies) and a new item on the list of encargos: rocoto jam. A delicious spicy, yet sweet marmalade made from rocoto, one of our many types of hot peppers, which you can spread on whatever you want!

I’m happy to report that the suitcase was full of all these encargos and then some! I’ve read one new book in Spanish to Vanessa every night since the treasure trove made it to our house last week. She couldn’t be happier. While my mom was in Peru, new things kept occurring to me and I’d write or call her with more encargos, including a small gold name plate bracelet for my son, called a esclava, and a dictionary of synonyms and antonyms in Spanish for me to help me in my job as a translator.

I’m also happy to share that my mom scored in terms of searching for a way I can teach Vanessa how to read in Spanish—which I promise will be the topic of several posts to come in the near future :)

Do you ask for encargos? What’s normally on your list? What items do you miss like crazy from back home and haven’t been able to find here?

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