Once we were married, my husband and I had put the worst behind us. Our families ended up showing for the wedding, despite our being interracial and interfaith, and that was a triumph on its own. Not long afterward, we were due for our daughter, Lilyana. We waited anxiously to find out what she would act and look like and how her beautiful little voice would sound. But, the news of our coming hijita brought new challenges in dealing with our family. There were fears from our families about how she would be raised, with what culture, which language and who’s values.
My husband and I knew that we would teach her both sides of her heritage and intertwine them together, but our families doubted just how well biracial children could grasp either side of their dual heritage and worried that one might “invade” the other. When it came to raising our daughter bilingual my family had fears that they would be left out and unable to communicate with our daughter and his family worried that she wouldn’t have enough Spanish fluency to grasp her heritage as a Latina. Both sides of the argument concerned us as parents. We spent much of the first year of our daughter’s life easing the fears of our families and demonstrating to them the “completeness” of our intercultural family identity.
When it came to bilingual fluency, I never feared that my daughter would lose her English abilities, as my family did. Neither myself or my husband are fluent in Spanish, so it has never been a concern for us. But unfortunately, we often heard criticism from some members of my family who didn’t appreciate hearing a language that they couldn’t understand, even if it was only just a few words of affection here and there. It got to the point where we were not “allowed” to speak Spanish when we were around my family.
On the other end of the spectrum, my in-laws would push our daughter to respond in Spanish and criticize our parenting skills if she didn’t respond to their liking. They would refuse her if she didn’t communicate in Spanish and I would watch my daughter turn away hurt, because she couldn’t gain their affections. On both sides we were hurt by family members who failed to see that they were alienating our little bilingual familia by expecting us to be one way or another out of their own personal fears.
My daughter is nearly three now and I’m disappointed that I can’t claim that these issues are completely behind us, but I’m encouraged that my family has grown in their understanding of our multicultural lifestyle. Mis sobrinos bounce on their mommys’ knees chanting, “brinca! brinca! brinca!“, they love to ask “uncle Ricky” about Mexican culture and foods, and they now feel justified in starting conversations with Latinos that they meet at school or in the supermarket. TV shows like Dora and Handy Manny have helped further by educating non-Spanish speaking niños on tidbits of language and culture…helping them to feel like “insiders” rather than “outsiders” and opening children up to a whole new world of diversity that they would otherwise be a foreigner to. This helps them to feel that they have a claim to Latino culture and makes it easier for us when we visit because they want to talk about it with us. I know that it’s because of our family’s influence and I’m proud of that progress.
Despite the fact that there is still racial tension between our families, the heightened awareness and acceptance of Latino culture by my nephews makes me very hopeful for the future. Everyone in our family has come to adore our daughter despite prejudice, and for most, their fears about her developing language confusion have slowly fizzled out. My family is learning more Spanish and becoming more comfortable with bilingual communication overall, and mis sobrinos take pride in their connection to Latino heritage and all the new words and ideas they are discovering. Amongst her primos, my daughter is “the cool one”…now that is cool!
Wonderful story Chantilly!
It’s always a challenge and a struggle…whether you face family disapproval and criticism, the children’s school, their peers or strangers out on the street. We face prejudice and ignorance in 2011 (amazing, I know) .However, we must keep in mind that we’ve made a very important decision…Beside raising our children to be bilingual and bicultural, we have to teach them to have an open mind and to be accepting of others’ cultures, languages, and appearance regardless of how different they might be from ours. Unfortunately for us multi-cultural and multi-lingual parents, sometimes, our worst enemies are within our own families or our in-laws. (I personally face racism in mine “your accent”, “skin color”…etc. often times come into the conversation…it is infuriating and sad but a reality nonetheless. We must unite as couples and support this life-long journey of raising happy children, proud and sensitive human beings. I don’t like “skin-color labels” but my daughter comes home armed with “new vocabulary” after spending time with my husband’s family. It is frustrating to face racist remarks or dirty looks at the supermaket because I speak Spanish to my children, I hate it, I really do…but I just have to repeat to myself… “they don’t know what they’re missing, their children will never have the wealth in knowledge that me and my children have because we live in two cultures and speak two languages…Keep up the work! It will pay off in the end.
Thank you so much for the comment! Definitely, it seems that family comes at you the hardest and they’re often the most persistent too! You’re exactly right that we need to support each other, because there are many times where I’ve felt discouraged by the comments and looks, but in the end, I know I’m doing what’s best for my daughter and that outweighs everything else! Thank you!
Thank you for sharing, Chantilly. While our situations are not exactly the same, there certainly are similarities. I’d have to say that my parents-in-law are satisfied with my children’s fluency, particularly since they are the most fluent of their cousins. By the same token, they, particularly my son, are held up as an example, which can cause some irritation on the part of my sisters-in-law, who for various reasons chose not to maintain the Spanish language as part of their family life. I do run into my mom sometimes being annoyed at not knowing what was said sometimes but she does say that her fellow grandmother friends are impressed that we are raising them bilingual as most people do respect the fact that it is challenging but such a wonderful thing to do. So, while I wish I had more support from certain strains of the family, I guess I’ll take what I can get and move forward.
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