Bilingual is Better

Vanessa saying good-bye to her bisabuela

It’s been almost a week since we got back home from our viaje relámpago to Perú, my home country. Saying good-bye to my family is always extremely difficult for me because I never know how long it’ll be before we see each other again. Coming back to the States is also difficult because life here is so different at so many levels. From the taste of the food to the meaning of time…

Our trip back was hellish, to say the least. Three planes to get from Lima to Denver. We left my grandmother’s apartment at the ungodly hour of 2 a.m. and arrived at our home around 7 p.m. that night, which was really 9 p.m. for us considering the time difference. My daughter did amazing. She slept in two out of the three flights. My baby son, on the other hand, was a complete mess. The poor boy barely slept and was fighting off a cold which I’m sure only made him even more miserable.

On our final flight from Houston to Denver, just as I was about to maldecir en silencio the moment we decided to make such an unforgiving trip, Vanessa — who’s obviously much wiser than her 4 1/2 years — turned to me and said: “Mami, gracias por llevarnos a tu país.” She thanked me for taking them to my country!

If I wasn’t sure before about the importance that exposure to our roots through traveling has on our bilingual and bicultural children, her genuine, unprompted comment cemented it.

Traveling to both Peru and Puerto Rico is extremely expensive now that we’re a family of four, especially when we can’t stay longer than a couple of weeks due to our work commitments. After seeing the impact this short trip to Perú had on our daughter, my husband and I have made a pact that traveling back home as often as possible — at least once a year to either country — has to be one of our priorities.

4 Reasons why travel is so important:

  • Full time exposure to Spanish. You might recall a post I recently wrote about how I inadvertently found out Vanessa plays in English because this arena of her life is mostly covered by English while she is in preschool. As I mentioned in my last post about our trip, I pretty much let Vanessa play, play and play some more with her 3 cousins while we were in Perú. I’m sure her “play” vocabulary has expanded exponentially! She also figured out that while we all speak Spanish, there are many variations of the language, as I’ve written about in the past. For some unknown reason (I mean, I have an idea of the history behind it, but it still doesn’t make sense), Peruvians call birthday santos instead of cumpleaños. And since we got to celebrate both my ahijado’s (see picture below) and my birthday there, Vanessa heard this word over and over again until she finally asked me what was up.

Celebrating my godson's third santo

  • Showing them our culture is way better than telling them about it. Culture entails many things, including language, food, music, traditions and, in the case of Latinos, familia. Instead of telling my daughter about all these, she got to experience it all first hand and I was thrilled to see she loved every aspect of it. From our very, very loud family reunions to the two days we spent at the beach doing what I always did as child there: nothing.

 

Vanessa taking a break from collecting conchitas

Santiago getting his first taste of a Peruvian empanada de carne. He devoured it!

Vane drinking her umpteenth glass of chicha morada. The love affair begins.

Vanessa playing cards with her bisabuela

Checking out the Peruvian instruments at the Indian Market

  • A chance to stock up on all things Spanish. Before I had kids, I used to spend tons of money at the bookstore whenever I traveled to Perú, or any other Spanish speaking country, for that matter. While Amazon has gotten better and better in terms of their Spanish language selection, still nothing beats browsing the isles of a bookstore in search of that perfect book you’ve been dying to read. No more. Now I do that but for children’s books in Spanish. The bookstore in the picture below is only 3 blocks from my grandmother’s apartment, so it was one of the first places we visited! Vanessa was in heaven. I spent a fortune, but I left with four bags full of books and music for her an her brother. The kind of stuff I’ll never be able to get on Amazon ;)

Heaven on earth

  • An opportunity to expand their horizons and to see how life is different, but it’s also the same in other parts of the world. Again, the only way to truly understand this, is to live it, albeit for a short period of time. I think that, beside all the things I’ve mentioned in this and the other posts I’ve written about this trip, one of the main take-aways for my daughter is seeing why it’s important to speak Spanish and how this is a language spoken in many other countries of the world. I hope I never have to do it, but I know that reminding her of how she had no problems communicating with anybody there will serve as a strong detractor if she ever refuses to speak Spanish!

My kids playing in la playa

Pacific Ocean sunset

Have you traveled with your children to a Spanish-speaking country? How was that experience? Why is travel important to you?

 

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