Editor’s note: This is the second in a week long series of essays for Father’s Day written by papás who are raising bilingual and bicultural children. We hope you come back to read the rest of the essays this week. If you missed anything, you can always go to the introductory post for links to the essays and to our awesome giveaway!
A little over two years ago, on a Tuesday night, I poured myself a glass of red wine (or two, or seven), sat at my computer, and registered a web domain that would be the home of my new brainchild: a blog about raising bilingual, bicultural children. I was ready to jump right in there with Confucius, Socrates, and Bertrand Russell as a great disseminator of wisdom, except my wisdom was on a very specific topic and I had not yet even begun to acquire said wisdom. In other words, I was putting the cart before the horse.
When I look back on the measly forty-four entries I’ve managed to add to my blog, many of which are just me restating how in awe I am of this whole process, and when I look back on the almost four years since my older son was born, one obvious common thread begins to emerge: that I have no idea what I’m doing. This doesn’t mean that I think I’m a lousy parent or that my children’s bilingual skills aren’t impressive by any standard. What I’m saying is that raising bilingual and bicultural children is as confounding and amorphous a concept as parenting itself.
So when I’m asked to reflect on why I chose to raise my boys bilingual, I am tempted to lie and say that it’s because of a visceral identification with my “raza” and my “culture” that burns inside me so deeply and intensely that my hips shake like Ricky Martin’s, even at Sunday mass as the Padre is handing me the Communion wafer. But I am not Católico and for all practical purposes (and I have written about this on my blog), I am a Midwestern Caucasian hipster trapped in the body of a tiny, 30-something, black-haired Colombian immigrant. I dreamed of living in the United States since I was very young and I love this culture. I feel comfortable here—this is my home. I’m not the type of Latino that wears his culture on his sleeve.
So why, then, am I raising my children bilingual?
All the reasons I can come up with seem unromantic and selfish, but are the honest to Jesus truth (forgive me, Padre!):
Because I am bilingual and there is something to be said for a parent passing on a skill to his children, especially when doing so doesn’t take an extraordinary effort on my part.
Because I’ve met enough children of immigrant parents who lament the fact that somewhere along the way the language of the old country got lost in their family, and I don’t need to add items to the list of things my kids are already going to hate me for.
Because occasionally I feel ill equipped to parent two boys who are growing up in a country and a time so removed from my own childhood experience and having them speak the language of my childhood bridges that gap and brings me comfort.
Because when we Skype with my family in Colombia and I see the proud and loving smiles on their faces when my boys talk to them in a Spanish that has hints of our regional accent, it warms my heart and confirms that I’m totally awesome.
Because when we’re at the dinner table and I catch the delighted look on my non-Spanish-speaking-mother-in-law’s face when she sees the Spanish fluency of her grandsons, her delight makes me happy; and because I look up to her, I feel like I, too, am a good parent.
Because when strangers stare in awe and amusement at our young family, watching our boys address each parent in a different language with great ease, I gush and feel proud.
Of course, I’m not about to reveal to my children that this whole bilingual and bicultural upbringing was all a big ploy to repair a gigantic crack in Papá’s self-esteem. As soon as you’re all done reading these words I’ll see if I can make Google forget this page ever existed.
I may end up telling my boys that I raised them bilingual so they would get better SAT scores, so they could get better jobs and one day own a whole Latin American province where they can retire in peace, knowing that their bilingual brains are better wired to delay the onset of Alzheimer’s.
And I will the proud father of two men who will be more complete, more well-rounded individuals than they would have been, had they not grown up knowing two languages and two cultures.