Bilingual is Better

Almost a month has passed since el quince de septiembre, Costa Rican Independence day. That weekend I set up a meeting point with a good friend, also a tica, gathered up my sons and our Metro cards and we trekked up to the Costa Rican Embassy in Washington, D.C. to check out the festivities, the third year in a row we’ve done so.

I can always bribe my children with a ride on the bus or the Metro, because there are few things they love as much as taking the Metro somewhere. So they were excited to go this year…but not as excited to stay. The embassy isn’t really big enough to accommodate the crowd that gathers every year. There were tons of people and no room to walk around. The music was loud. The line for the food was unbelievably long. For my two autistic boys, it was simply too much. Secondo spent most of the time we were in line humming to himself loudly in order to block out the noise. Primo dealt with it by occasionally sprawling out on the ground and staying there — and I let him.  We got our food, and I got my much-needed Imperial beer. We stayed long enough to sing the himno nacional and then headed back home.

I have many memories of my parents going to great lengths to make U.S. culture, history and politics come alive for my brother and me when we lived in Costa Rica back in the eighties. We often spent the Fourth of July at the U.S. Embassy, where we sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” ate hot dogs and ran sack races. We all got to break the No-TV-During-Dinner rule and watch CNN if a major story was breaking. My father — a staunch Democrat — dragged us out of school and took us to the embassy so that we could hear both George H. W. Bush and Dan Quayle speak on official visits, because there was no way we were going to pass up the opportunity to hear the President and Vice President speak.

I’ve always dreamed about doing similar things with my boys. We are lucky to live in an area with such a wealth of cultures, where embassies hold all kinds of events and it seems like a festival is going on every weekend. And while I knew that doing these things would not be feasible at first, with two babies and a bulky double stroller, I looked forward to the day when we could do them.

Once the double stroller and diapers were history, we started going places…with mixed results. An afternoon at the Museum of Natural History ended with an epic meltdown within minutes of our arrival, so we played outside instead. And now the meltdowns are fewer because Primo and Secondo are increasingly able to express themselves more articulately. I recently showed Secondo a flyer advertising a Hispanic Heritage Month event. Music! Dancing! Typical foods! it proclaimed. Secondo looked at it for a moment. “No quiero ir,” he told me.  “There will be too many people and it will be too noisy.” I was shocked — for years I’ve struggled to guess what he’s thinking and what he wants, and this time his wishes were crystal clear. I’ve longed for communication like this more than just about anything. Needless to say, I respected his wishes. We bagged the Hispanic Heritage Month Festival.

I hope as they get older they will find these events more enjoyable. They may or may not. As for the embassy next year, although there was something I loved about singing the himno nacional together, I’ve decided we won’t go if they don’t want to. But I will dig out my old copy of Lo que se canta en Costa Rica and maybe we can learn the himno at home.

{photo by  thombo2}

Recent Posts