Newly pregnant with our first child, there were so many hopes and dreams I aspired to give my daughter: a secure sense of self, confidence in her womanhood and the ability to define her cultural identity in whichever way she chooses. Being of mixed races and cultures, I wondered who would win in the battle of personal identity definition…Alina or society at large. With that in mind, before Alina was born, I decided she would be bilingual in order to have ownership over her dual identity regardless of what the world thought she was.
And then, I became a real-life parent and learned that hopes and dreams were destined to remain aspirations if concrete goals and action plans were not established. For her first few months of life, Alina was exposed to very minimal Spanish. The chores of daily routines, the polarizing emotions of becoming a new mom, packing the husband’s lunch before he left for the day’s work, all took precedent over depositing a new language into my child’s ear. While I felt guilt over my lack of effort, I knew that it wasn’t for lack of love. Just lack of energy (and sleep)! Raising a bilingual child, in my case, requires support and resources that I needed to seek out deliberately. This was not going to be an easy task.
Determined to create any resemblance of bilingualism in my baby, I eventually stepped up the game. I read Spanish books to Alina. She loved (and still does) all her Little Pim videos. And while I am the only Spanish speaker in consistent contact with her, I made an effort to reinforce commonplace objects with their Spanish moniker. Throughout her first year of life, my Spanglish baby was able to identify most objects in both Spanish and English and respond to age appropriate commands. I was so proud!
Alina turned 2 years old in January, and like a true Cubana, she can talk up a storm! (I can’t be the only Cubana that loves to talk?!) I casually joke that being Latina is why Alina can speak in full sentences, give appropriate responses when spoken to and, in general, hold a conversation at such a young age, but the truth is, I am a very proud Mama. She has an amazing vocabulary and is incredibly smart.
Shortly after her second birthday, Alina and I were on the phone with my grandmother who was speaking to her in Spanish. I wanted for Mami to hear and connect with her great grandchild. To be as proud as I was. But when Mami presented a simple question to Alina (“¿qué estas haciendo?”), of which Alina always responds the same way (“naaaaathing”), there was only silence. Alina looked at me, confused. In that moment I realized that Alina did not understand the Spanish question she so readily responds to when asked in English. I had failed to evolve and expand her knowledge of Spanish alongside the development of her dominant language. Maybe it was because Alina’s language ability advanced so quickly that I found myself ill prepared? I took for granted that exposure to singular words would somehow translate to structural, moving sentences with verbs and adjectives. For as proud I once was for raising a Spanglish baby, I instantly felt like a failure to my sprouting Spanglish toddler.
But that is what is most amazing about language: there is no expiration date. You always have time to learn. You just get back up and keep climbing. And although my efforts in raising a Spanglish baby were great, they were mild compared to the commitment required to raise a Spanglish toddler and beyond. But, I am determined to make my bilingual aspirations a reality for Alina. Even if one sentence, one verb, one day at a time.
Today’s aspiration turned reality? “Yo como un manzana.”