In this country, there is a definite stereotype as to what a Spanish speaker is supposed to look like. The erroneous belief seems to be that only people with dark hair, dark eyes and tan skin speak Spanish. I know that the readers of SpanglishBaby are aware of the great diversity that exists among Spanish speakers, but the reality is that the American public seems to hold fast to their misconceptions.

At the school where I teach, the students are always amazed when they learn that Ms. Choi is a native speaker, because even though she is ethnically Korean, she was born and raised in Ecuador. This year in particular, my students are slowly changing their deeply guarded beliefs as to what a Spanish speaker looks like since they have a classmate who is ethnically Korean, but was born and raised in Paraguay, and two students of Indian descent whose parents grew up in Panama.

When my children were just babies, I would often wonder how these stereotypes would affect their Spanish speaking ability. Now that they are older, I am starting to see that it is not hurting them but rather helping them. Currently, Spanish is their dominant language. When they speak to me or to each other, it is always in Spanish.

The fact that they look very much like their German grandmother with their blond hair and blue eyes causes them to get a lot of positive attention for speaking Spanish. Both Spanish and non-Spanish speaking adults praise them for being bilingual. They are often told how smart they are or how wonderful it is that they can speak Spanish. I actually think it is the reason that they have never rebelled against our Spanish only rule. In fact, I am actually starting to find them showing off a bit. They use their Spanish to impress the hostess at the Mexican restaurant we frequent in order to hear her praise them, and to get more candy.

At the same time, I can’t help but wonder how Spanish speaking kids who do not fit this stereotype are treated. Do they receive the compliments and praise that my sons receive for speaking Spanish, or are they looked down upon for not speaking English? Are they told they are smart and wonderful for knowing two languages or are they told to speak English because they are in America?

It is my belief that as more studies come out about the benefits of being bilingual, there will be less negative reactions to different races and different languages. I hope that my efforts to educate both my own children and my students about the value of cultural and linguistic diversity will change negative stereotypes and make the world a better place for everyone.

{Image via Michael Bentley}

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