Bilingual is Better

Photo courtesy of Suzanne Mateus

Anyone that gets to know my little girl will notice that she is very observant. Yes, even at the tender age of eleven months the girl soaks up her surroundings before taking the plunge to interact. To watch her reactions on our first family vacation was, as cliché as this may sound, priceless!

There are numerous stories about my time in Miami that replay in my mind each time I am about to visit the vibrant, colorful, Latino city! The first time I traveled there, over ten years ago, I felt as if I were somewhere in Latin America. For these two reasons alone I was extremely excited to immerse my bebita in a different culture: the Miami-Cuban culture!

I was looking forward to sharing the food, the music, the beautiful beaches (her first time ever to the beach) and the local language that make up a huge part of Miami’s Cuban identity. We were lucky to be in town when an annual event occurs to remember and experience Cuban culture. My mother makes it a point to attend Cuba Nostalgia (http://www.cubanostalgia.org/) as often as possible. I think it gives her an opportunity to indulge in a version of nostalgia for her native country of

Mexico. It is her excitement and my interest in celebrating Latino culture that motivates me to transmit the same spark to my bebita, starting now!

When we arrived to Cuba Nostalgia there was a cacophony of noise coming from every direction.  It reminded me of the buzz that seems to permeate around Miami from the chatter of the people (also referred by Cubans as the tiki, tiki) to the salsa music on every other station. I thought to myself that “…this, this would be a great city to raise a trilingual baby.” The use of Spanish certainly dominates, but my husband and I noted several languages being spoken almost everywhere we went.

What I loved most about my baby’s first traveling adventure was seeing the look on her face when she experienced something new. For instance, when she awoke from her nap at Cuba Nostalgia she saw a lot of people dancing and the noise didn’t seem to even faze her. In fact, at one point my mom brought her one of the maracas a local booth was giving away and she held it tightly in her hand while shaking it to participate with everyone else! In addition, her reaction when her little hand touched sand for the first time reminded my mom of how much I disliked it as a baby also. Lastly and most importantly, the opportunity to hear Spanish in a different context other than our home in Central Texas was pivotal, in my opinion, for her development as a Spanish speaker.

I like to refer to the Queen of Salsa, Celia Cruz, with this last point. She states in one of her songs sin clave no hay son (without the key, there is no rhythm). One of salsa music essential ingredients is la clave (the key). It’s a certain beat that many times I have seen people clap. Well, that’s exactly how I feel about becoming bilingual or trilingual. The key, or as Celia puts it, la clave is immersion and in multiple contexts. My bebita, I am proud to say, got to experience la clave, both figuratively and literally speaking. I must say that it will certainly be hard to compete with Spanish as she gets older and as we attempt to provide a remotely similar experience for the third language (French) we are teaching her.

Nonetheless, I think what my mom said about Sabrina’s experience at Cuba Nostalgia pretty much sums up her first travel experience and immersion in Latino culture, “It was like she knew exactly what her mama & papa love (everything and anything Latino), and went right along with the celebration!”

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