This picture is a perfect reflection of how we are trying to raise our daughter with multiple cultures and multiple languages. One foot lies on the northern side of the equator representing her North American (Mexican-American) roots while the other foot lies on the southern side of the equator representing her South American (Ecuadorian) heritage. This may be a stretch, but I think it’s an appropriate one considering our meager attempt to add a third language, but her lack of balance and her look of bewilderment represent how she, at this point in her life, needs our support to shape her identity as a multilingual and multicultural individual.
As we prepared for our trip to South America, my husband and I were very unsure about how our baby was going to handle all of the changes. Not only were we stepping foot on a city with a greater altitude than our home in central Texas, but we were also immersing her into an entirely different culture for two weeks.
Our little guaguita (which means baby in Quechua, the local indigenous language) seemed to have embraced all of the cultural nuances that came our way. Such as the numerous cousins that were always happy to hold, play, and entertain her. In fact, to our surprise she was more hesitant to have doting tios and tias hold her than the cousins, whom she willingly jumped into their arms with a smile.
Sometimes it was a little difficult for me to decipher what made her North American roots distinct from her South American roots other than the constant use of Spanish, of course. The one conclusion I came up with was the way children, such as cousins, seem to grow up in such close proximity to each other. For example, we were staying with my husband’s cousin who lives right next door to her brother and his family!
There’s also the luxury of affordable help in South America that seems to make the mundane day-to-day tasks of motherhood more enjoyable. I realized the amount of time and energy I expend day in and day out on chores that the “help” take care of for those that can afford them. I literally came back to the States telling my husband, “If we lived in Ecuador I think I would want at least three children.” That being said, as a doctoral student with an interest in advocating for bilingual education for minority populations, I was also very sensitive to how privileged my daughter was compared to the majority of the population in Ecuador. This probably will and can become very much part of her multicultural identity.
I have realized the importance of making sure that I expose my daughter, not only to the rich cultures that she comes from, but to the fact that though she, to a large degree is considered privileged, it has not always been this way for her ancestors. I have realized that when it comes to raising multilingual and multicultural children we may also be referring to raising children with an awareness of differences in social class and education. What makes this especially challenging to teach is the pivotal role context plays depending on whether you are on the northern or southern side of the equator.