Bilingual is Better

Photo by Alan Light

The following is a guest post by Rubén González, who blogs at “Love, Translated – Raising Bilingual, Bicultural Children”

If you were a teenager in the United States in 1991, you were likely to either have the hots for Kelly Taylor or for Dylan McKay (or maybe Brandon Walsh, if you preferred goody-two-shoes). But more interestingly, if you were a teenager in Colombia in 1991 (namely, me,) from that great distance and thanks to the magic of television, you knew these characters very well, you longed for each weekly airing of Beverly Hills 90210, and you didn’t have the hots for Kelly Taylor – you were flat out in love with her.

So is it a surprise that twenty years later I find myself happy and madly in love with an “All-American” wife with the blond hair and that quintessentially American, big-toothed smile that I learned to love in Kelly Taylor?

Where I’m going with this is that I have it made. I got the girl of my dreams. And together, we now have two wonderful and beautiful bi-cultural, bi-racial, bilingual sons. But now that I am almost mature and feel this resurgence of pride in my Colombian background that I want to instill as strongly as I can in my children, did I shoot myself in the foot by marrying a non-Latina?

Not even close.

There are definitely challenges. My wife does not speak Spanish fluently and before she met me, she was only vaguely familiar with Latino culture. So there are cultural misunderstandings from time to time (especially when we have visitors from the old country –mi mamá-) and yes, there is a language barrier that, as our kids grow older and my conversations with them in Spanish become more sophisticated, keeps my wife a bit out of the loop. We don’t have a “Colombian” or even “Latino” household that our children can come to after school, a space and time warp that immerses them back into the ways of a household in the old country. Instead (and literally,) we have a Colombian-American household that has in it a lot of what you would call “American mainstream” and sprinklings here and there of Colombianness. And in that, the optimist in me sees as a great advantage.

I have met many immigrant Latino couples whose children struggle with the disconnect between the culture they experience in the home and the one they experience outside the home. And to the parents’ credit, they end up raising wonderful, well-adjusted children, but there always seems to be that tension of two cultures pulling on them, some times in different directions, which causes the children at times to actively reject the culture of their parents. In our home, by virtue of the difference between my wife’s and my background, it seems to me like there is inherently less pressure. I realize that my boys are getting less exposure to Latino culture than they might otherwise, had I married a Latina, but I also believe that having the Latinness toned down a little bit creates an environment where speaking Spanish, singing Colombian songs, or playing Colombian games is simply one of those quirky things they do with their papá and is therefore more palatable, it doesn’t feel like an environmental imposition.

There are other, wonderful advantages: the process of cultural discovery that my wife experiences adds excitement to our family life and makes otherwise small things, like her learning to make arepas or natilla, a cause for celebration. Also, being the naturally neurotic person that I am, I used to be overwhelmed by the prospect of helping my children go through situations and rites of passage that are unique to American culture, but having a beautiful Gringuita with firsthand knowledge as my partner greatly allays my concerns and makes me feel like we have the perfect balance to navigate two worlds and two cultures.

I’m not saying that all of us Latinos need to spiff up this Saturday and hit the clubs in search for non-Latinos to mate with. I’m mostly writing words of comfort to myself and hopefully to any other readers who may doubt their ability to create a rich Latino experience for their children because their spouse is not Latino.

Culture is a funny thing: it feels like the most important thing in the world, it is what defines us, what grounds us in the world, but at the same time, it is made up of small superficial things that, when analyzed closely, make us realize that people around the world are more similar than they are different. Enough cheese? I’m not done yet: It is because of those global commonalities that I fell in love with Kelly Taylor over the airways, and twenty years later, with my wife, whom I call the new and improved Kelly Taylor 2.0. And it is thanks to the celebration and the balance of our differences that our bilingual, bi-cultural household seems to be thriving despite the challenges. Of course, we’ve only been at this for a handful of years, but so far so good. So chin up, Anglo-Latino households!

Originally from Manizales, Colombia, Rubén González is a 34 year-old husband and father of two boys, living in Minneapolis.
Ruben arrived in the US at the tender age of 20 and since then, he’s worked stints ranging from teacher, to house cleaner and lab technician. Currently, he works as a technology and web guru at a marketing communications agency in Eden Prairie, Minnesota.
Rubén’s passion (besides his wife and kids) include literature, politics, history, pop culture, and Scandinavian Black and Death Metal. He exposes his neurosis, insecurities, and love for his family on his blog, “Love, Translated – Raising Bilingual, Bicultural Children”

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