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!