Bilingual is Better

Photo credit: ali edwards

Editor’s note: This is the third 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!

We could get away with everything as kids. Or so we thought. Mom and dad didn’t understand English and if we didn’t want them to know what we were talking about we just switched to that language. It was a weapon. Our way of shielding our “personal” lives and thoughts from them, since none of us ever actually owned or kept a diary in the true sense of the word.

If they protested and demanded we speak in Spanish, we’d do so for a few minutes, before switching back to our second language once again. Or we just wouldn’t say anything anymore.

What we didn’t count on, or realize back then, was that for all our efforts to conceal ourselves from them, they themselves had developed into “masters” of reading between the lines and understanding our individual body languages, all seven of us. On top of that, they did understand more than they let on and every once in a while when our arguments would burst into full blown pleitos, either one of them would tongue lash us with an: ¡ey, no estes diciendo eso! ¿A quién le estás hablando? or a ¡Vale más que se calmen! We immediately did. We might have been cocky, but we weren’t stupid.

Even if our teachers said it was unacceptable to be corporally punished, hasta by one’s own parents, we knew and didn’t play that. If we acted badly, they were going to give us mínimo, unos cintarazos. They were old school, and discipline was one of the many things they weren’t willing to assimilate into the American cultura. My dad’s manotasos were especially painful!

Thanks dad! I thought you should know that this Father’s Day.

In all seriousness, though, as a father myself now, I honestly think I’m at a parental disadvantage because there isn’t a language barrier between Edgar and me. Sure, we can understand each other in English or Spanish, at varying degrees depending on the complexity of the conversation we’re having, but since I don’t have to struggle to interpret his gestures and facial expressions all of the time, I wonder if I’m as in tune with him as my own father was with me. The man could just look at me with his eyes and I knew immediately what he was saying! Usually it was you better settle down if you know what’s good for you. And despite him not being the most vocal man, I understood his smirks, his eye squints, his grunts and even his chuckles… not nearly as well as he understood mine, but I did.

I guess in a way I was reading him too, nonverbally.

The closest Edgar and I have gotten to this level of unspoken language are whistles, secret handshakes and hmms. He’s especially brilliant at the hmms. I’ll call his name and he’ll answer hmm? This really drives me crazy and gives me more reason to just call his name over and over until he answers with a proper, (well not all that proper, my parents would have never accepted this response), what? The handshake I invented one day without thinking too much about it, and it basically consists of six mini-handshakes rolled into a larger one that “only” he and I know. Well, my nephews and some of his friends have been recruited into it as well, but still, it’s a very select group of people!

My whistling is probably what he understands the most. I don’t have to say a thing or make any motions at all. I just whistle a few times and he comes running over to me: hmm? There’s that damn hmm again! Les promoto que lo de whistling para nada lo hago con malas intenciones. It’s just something spontaneous we came up with and both fell in love with really. Wait a minute! I didn’t realize how much of an actual shared and unique form of communication Edgar and I already had. How cool!

Who could ask for a better Father’s Day present?

Juan Alanis is a South Texas based writer living in Houston who owns and operates the blog www.JuanofWords.com. You can read his brand new column at the Houston Chronicle’s La Voz de Houston: Juan of Words – A blog by a Latino for Latinos…y Más. Also, don’t miss Juan’s hilarious misadventures, personal vlogs and random thoughts on YouTube: http://www.youtube.com/user/Juanofwords

 

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