As a Spanglish baby myself, exposing my 2 year old daughter to the measure of Spanish necessary to develop a respectable level of fluency has been daunting. As her primary caregiver, and sole Spanish speaker in our home, my own weakness in fluency is ever present. But as I continue to expose, communicate and deposit our second language into my mini Latina, an entirely new question has been posed: can she even be considered a Latina?
My Alina is a 2 year old unlike most 2 year olds you might know. With sass and keen awareness uncommon for such a pint sized person, she artfully conveys her intended message to those willing to absorb it. I take pride in cultivating my free thinker. But when she approached and seemingly conquered issues of race, identity and with one flailing swoop ousted me as “different,” my urge to restrict this impending mindset took hold.
As a product of a loving union between me, a full blooded Cubana, and my African American husband, Alina is biracial. Bicultural, if you prefer. Or, according to my 2 year old, she is simply black like Daddy. And Mommy? She’s “different.” While I was prepared to one day discuss issues of racial identity with our beautiful daughter (albeit not this young), I had never considered that the questionable identity would be my own. And, I lament, my daughter’s classification that so casually stripped our sameness caused a stir in my heart. What mother wants to be different from their children, their daughter? Maybe because I am in an interracial marriage, with biracial children, it may surprise you to know: not this one. I don’t want to be different from my kids. And it just never occurred to me that I was.
What finally did occur to me is this: maybe Alina isn’t Latina just because her mom is Latina. In its purposed core, my dedication to bilingualism has always been somewhat self-serving. As Latinos, our language unifies us throughout a spectrum of cultures, skin colors and histories. I wanted Alina to speak Spanish so that, no matter what the world said, she could take ownership of her Latina, the part of her which is me. Bilingualism is wonderful for so many reasons, but my chore of exposure is motivated by the retention of the me in her, the different in her.
After some critical thinking and the foresight granted to those who allow time to bestow it, I realized that my heart’s pressing question to be or not to be Latina is not one centered on Alina’s identity. It rested heavily on my own.
As a Spanglish baby, all grown up, I have openly wondered if I am Latina enough to be considered Latina; if my lack luster command of our language restricts the ownership of my blood that I am privy to. And while I am not quite certain the answer of that yet, what remains a feverish passion is raising a daughter who one day can. Sure, at 2 years young, Alina is nowhere near ready to define her personal identity. But as the catalyst of awareness to the many struggles of identity that exist within me, Alina’s enjoyment and yearning to speak Spanish has reminded me that “different” can be Latina too.
So, from one different Latina to the next, we wish all our hermanas on their quest of Latina-hood a very joyous journey to self awareness. Different is beautiful. Alina and I are each uniquely different Latinas. And, as I remind my beautiful little girl, in our differences there lies so much of the same.
Gracias for pulling together your intimate thoughts and sharing them!
I struggle with many of the same emotions. If I was born in the states, I’d be labeled a “biracial baby” (I’m Puertorican, but my dad has Haitian roots). So, I’ve had my fair share of struggles with how “latina” I really am, having spent most of my adolescence in the states and struggling to maintain my Spanish language.
Now as I teach my 21-month old daughter Spanish, I wonder how attached she will be to the side of my heritage I choose to define myself and what was it about my upbringing that made me cling to being latina, while my brother ran from it… especially since she looks nothing like me. (Don’t laugh, but I used to carry around a copy of her birth certificate, in case I had any trouble and someone questioned whether or not she really was my daughter. lol)
Thank you for this post. I think about this question all the time, and my daughter is only 18 months old! I am white, and my husband is a Guatemalan immigrant. He is her primary caregiver and speaks to her only in Spanish, but already some of her first words seem to be English. She has very light skin and we interact in a primarily white and African American context, so I worry that her connection to her Latina-ness will be weaker than I hope. We are trying to be intentional about cultivating her multicultural identity because it is truly a beautiful gift. Thank you for your story!
Great post Vanessa! Thanks for sharing your insight! As the gringa mom, raising my bicultural daughter in a bilingual househould, I too have had some of these same thoughts. Howver my daughter easily fits in with her Mexican relatives and loves her Latina culture!
Yes, great post Vanessa. As a half gringa, half Costa Rican raised in a bilingual, bicultural household, I am trying to do the same with my 15 month old son. This post made me think about the CULTURE part, which is something I hadn’t given much thought. I don’t struggle with the language part– I think I have that part done (for the most part), but your post made me think about how I plan on, if I do, imparting the elements of Costa Rican culture on to my son. Thanks for making us think. You’re doing a great job.
Thought-provoking and honest thoughts, Vanessa.
I think the main problem with all these labels that get passed around these days is that, ultimately, it isn’t someone else who gets to define us – it’s US. I’ve struggled with that myself, as my Spanish heritage is more removed than that of, it seems, most of the people who read/write on this blog. My grandmother (who I was named for) was Spanish, but her parents immigrated from Spain shortly before she was born in the States. She grew up bilingual, and my father also spoke Spanish, but because my mother didn’t, I quite sadly wasn’t raised with more than a few words here and there. We also lived on the other side of the country, so I wasn’t able to build a very good relationship with my grandmother until I went to college and spent most of my winter breaks with my grandparents.
Because of all of this, Spanish is a second language for me, and one I speak very imperfectly, which is so frustrating to me. However, I feel very close to that piece of me, and yearn to visit the part of Spain my family came from. I’m teaching my sons Spanish now, although I don’t expect them to be fully bilingual because I can’t speak it like a native. I like to call myself Hispanic, but my siblings would never do so. None of them have sought out Spanish language learning, either. It’s just not as big a deal to them for whatever reason.
For a long time, I felt sort of like a fraud highlighting my Spanish heritage, especially around others who are have a stronger link, but I’ve finally realized that it doesn’t matter what they think at all. It only matters how I think of myself, what forces have shaped me, and what is important to me. I think everyone should have the right to build their own identity, especially our children. If my boys don’t feel Hispanic, that’s okay. But that piece of me will still matter to ME.
That is so true, Ana… we all have the right to self identify! I definitely want to instill that sense of ownership to my children. And I can relate to so much of your childhood, too. Thanks so much for the sharing!
I appreciate the honesty and insight.
As a white American married to a moreno Brazilian, and living in Brazil (for the time being), I often wonder about how my son will identify himself in the future. We practice OPOL (one parent one language) with our baby but we are a Portuguese speaking household. I really want my son to be exposed to both languages and both cultures; I want him to grow up bilingual and bicultural as well.
I teach a Latino studies class to high school students and we touch upon this very topic. My students seem to believe and I agree that if left up to their generation alone, our Latino culture would disappear in this country. That the only reason Spanish and other aspect of what makes up who we are as a people still exists is because of the Latino immigrants who continue to migrate to this country everyday. This is definitley an issue that worries me personally since I too am in a bicultural marriage and I have a 5 month old daughter that I am trying to raise bilingual and I am having a hard time exposing her to Spanish. I am so glad this site was developed to help parents like me get ideas on how to expose our children to our language and culture. I also worry about how my daughter will identify herself when she is older. I will try my hardest to teach her Spanish and show her the wonderful things about being Latina but in the end it is really up to her to take what I will try to share and embrace it. I pray she does!!
tank you… I appreciate the honesty and insight.
Dear Vanessa, thank you for sharing this article.
Very beautiful, your little girl.
Very beautiful, your little girl.
Very beautiful, your little girl.