Bilingual is Better
Sep
15
2011

A Spanglish Baby All Grown Up

Posted by:  |  Category: Bicultural Vida, Daily Blog

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Editor’s note: I am so happy to announce that we’ve invited one more regular contributor to our SpanglishBaby familia. Vanessa, of the beautifully written and illustrated blog De Su Mama, recently accepted our invitation to join us and we know you’re quickly going to see why we are thrilled. Vanessa has a different kind of story to tell, starting with what she writes about today. We hope you all welcome her to our family!

My grandparents immigrated to the United States from their beloved Cuba in the late 1960s, bringing their young children with them. And although my parents would never dismiss their birth country, spending the majority of their lives in our English speaking country equates to a lessening of my Spanish speaking abilities and cultural identity as a Cubana.

The exponential lessening of bilingualism and cultural identification is seen through the generations in my family. Speaking less-than-perfect Spanish has been a gradual shift, versus a concrete decision made by any one person at a specific moment in time. Every Latino family is different however. Some families cut out Spanish to assimilate, others stick to their roots like an evergreen in the Mojave. Others still, like mine, are somewhere in the middle: focused on education, economic mobility, providing ample opportunity for their children, while casually preserving family tradition, culture and language.

I could image it was difficult to balance the two priorities, especially in the 1980s. Growing up in the middle income, beach suburbs of Los Angeles, attending a private Catholic school, meant a distinct lack of diversity. There were no resources like multilingual playgroups, online communities or the social acceptance of bilingualism. I remember, as a freshman, going with my Mother to enroll in my high school classes. I had earned a spot in English I Honors {my family was ecstatic!}, but because I had listed Spanish as my first language, was enrolled in ESL instead. To boot, and although passing the written exam, I was given a verbal interview before being allowed into the classroom. I had a fabulous childhood, no disputing that. But one filled with the language and culture of my family? Not so much.

Given that scenario, you end up with me, the Spanglish baby; a full blooded Latina, 100% Cubana, who is bilingual in English and Spanglish {at best} and doesn’t always know how her heritage fits into her everyday reality. According to my Mami, I’m really just an American anyway.

Of course, I would prefer to be totally fluent in my family’s native tongue. I believe bilingualism provides a gateway to better education, more career opportunities and, in general, a worldly outlook. And to the many monolingual family and friends in my life, when they hear me speak Spanish, I am totally fluent. Usually, it’s when I’m on the phone with my Mami that my Spanish really gets going. I start to roll a few R’s, proclaim an “ay Dios mio”, and am then rewarded with “Wow, Vanessa! I didn’t know you could speak Spanish like that!” In those moments, I am brimming with Latino pride. My flesh is swollen with the assertion and desire to be Cubana.

Insert me in front of a few bona-fide Latinos {you know, the ones that are really fluent}, and all that bloating dissipates. I am no longer the proud Cuban girl. And you’ll likely not hear much Spanglish come out of my mouth. My Latino pride reverts to its proper place, balanced delicately upon my hyphen of brown skin in a white life. After all, I’m really just an American anyway.

And so folks, there you have it. I am your Spanglish Baby, all grown up. A soul deposited with the beauty and essence that is our language and culture, yet living a life that lacks much of its influence. There is an upside though: we aren’t in the ’80s anymore. Times are changing. Communities like the one we have here are supportive in nature and help to balance our hyphenated experiences. Bilingualism doesn’t have to equate to English being your “second” language, even if, by technicality, it is. The best part is that, to more and more Americans, being bilingual, to any degree, is seen as a desirable, sought after skill. Now that’s pretty cool.

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