I’m not sure at what moment it hit me, but this summer I was determined to take my three kids, ages 9, 6, and 5 abroad for a cultural immersion experience. I wasn’t sure where we were going yet, I only knew that I wanted to be immersed in either the French or Spanish language and culture.
Why did I want to do this? Well, 34 years ago I was born in Mexico City, Mexico, to a Mexican mother and a Haitian father. We left Mexico for Haiti when I was still a baby. Around the age of 3, we moved to New York City and have been in the States since then. While I grew up listening to Selena, eating mole on special occasions, and hearing my parents speak Spanish at home, my brother and I spoke only English. My parents wanted us to help them learn English so we focused on learning English and eventually forgot how to speak Spanish and French. Even though we spoke English with my parents, my parents taught us about the Mexican and Haitian traditions.
As a bi-cultural mother married to an African-American, I have a big job ahead of me. I have three different cultures to teach my children. Even though I cook food my mother and aunts have taught me to cook, and my iPod has both new and traditional artists from Haiti and Mexico, I knew that something was missing. It wasn’t just that we didn’t speak Spanish at home, it was much more than that. It was the experience of going home and being totally immersed in the culture and the language, smelling the air, touching the soil.
When we were children, my brother and I visited Mexico and Haiti several times. The earliest memory I have was going to Haiti the summer before I entered second grade. One morning, we were in Miami, Florida and by lunch we were in Port au Prince, Haiti. Even though I was only 7, I still have many memories from that trip and our subsequent trips to Mexico. Those trips defined who I was and where I came from. I had a better understanding of my culture and family traditions.
It was this sort of experience that I wanted for my children. After careful planning, we chose Mexico over Haiti. We would spend a few days in Mexico City to visit with family and the rest of our time would be in San Miguel de Allende. San Miguel is a small colonial town located 180 miles north of Mexico City. It is rich in history, culture, and the arts. There is a small population of Americans that live there either full or part-time and, as a result, there are many great bilingual summer programs for international kids. The programs offer cooking classes, crafts and arts, Mexican history, and of course, Spanish.
In preparation for our trip, I checked out a number of different books on Mexico for children. We learned about the history, I showed the kids a map of where we were going, what we would see, and what we would do. I wanted to prepare them as much as possible to eliminate some of their natural fears they had about going away for a month. They were going to miss their friends at home, their rooms, and were scared about not knowing anyone of the language. I was also scared about going, not sure how they would react, whether our rental home would be suitable, or if we would make any friends.
Now, that we are back home, I can say that the experience well exceeded my expectations. We made many friends, we learned more than I could’ve learned in books and videos about Mexico, and the children are now speaking a little Spanish. Sure there were moments where they missed home, missed their daddy (who was only able to stay for a week with us due to work), and wanted to eat “plain food.” My son learned how to make tortillas from scratch, the children made beautiful piñatas, and met other children from Switzerland to California. I have no regrets about our trip and know that I hope to be able to return next summer. We promised our new friends that we would be back, gave kisses to our new teachers, and promised to Skype from America and stay in touch.
*** All images courtesy and copyright Justice Jonesie.
What an absolute beautiful family! I am so inspired and awed at your commitment to raising worldly, multilingual children. Although my baby is not even two, maybe one year we’ll find each other San Miguel de Allende!
San Miguel is a beautiful town. For more information: San Miguel de Allende Travel Guide
Hi Carly and Justice!
Wow it’s as if the universe heard my call and this lost appeared. I am Franco-American (with a long family love affair with Haiti) married to a Mexican. We live in Asia but I’ll finally manage to get our girls 5.5 and 3 to Mexico next summer to see their Abuelita and finally get some proper Spanish immersion. Papa works so much they don’t get to hear much.
We’ve been toying with the idea to try and find a house to rent in SMdA and look for a half day summer program for girls (and Spanish classes for me so we can return to Bangkok and speak the minority language on weekends. )
I am excited to meet you virtually and appreciate any thoughts you may have..
Love hearing about your adventures to San Miguel, and love hearing that it was a wonderful cultural experience for your family.
I moved to San Miguel 10 year ago and the culture and style of life pulled me in as a permanent resident. With 2-year old in tow, we now offer two of the summer camp options in San Miguel. MexArt, a resident or day program for teens ages 13 to 18 offers language, visual arts and dance programs for a month each summer (started in 2001).
More recently we’ve opened a children’s play center that offers open play, early stimulation classes, dance, art, music, and special events. This center, Roombo, has a summer camp and vacation camp component that runs during school vacations and summer break. Roombo’s bilingual daycamp is specifically geared towards children ages 2 to 8.
Hats off to all those families out there that want to provide their children with a multicultural, multilingual experience! While many families recently have been fearful of travel to Mexico, San Miguel is located in a culturally rich, safe environment. This haven is far from any unsafe areas that tend to affect border town and certain large metropolitan areas.
San Miguel awaits all of you families who crave a new experience!
Oops Carly tried to respond to yours but it went one comment above!
Thank you for sharing your wonderful experience! It sounds like you had a beautiful time there and I admire your courage! I have plans to bring my young kids to San Miguel for a month this summer 2012. I am really excited about the amazing cultural experience ahead of us, but I am having concerns about safety. I am wondering how safe you felt during your stay in San Miguel? Were there many other families with young children in town? I am mainly concerned with escalating reports of tourist kidnappings for ransom and less concerned with drug violence . Did this concern you?
I would also love to hear about any specific things we ” shouldn’t miss” during our stay!
Thank you! C. Marie
We chose San Miguel de Allende six years ago for its combination of climate, culture and the basic warmth of its people. I became interested in the process of becoming an expat and wrote a book based on conversations with 32 Americans and Canadians who had also made the move. It’s mainly a way of getting inside their heads. It’s called San Miguel de Allende: A Place in the Heart. Here’s a link to an excerpt on my website:
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