Living in a monolingual household with no family near by, in an environment with less diversity than I care to admit, there are days where I utter not a syllable in Spanish. With my oldest child, now 3 years old, Spanish immersion was regimented with specific rules — I cooked in Spanish, I narrated the TV in Spanish. But now, with two kids under 3, there are no rules. There is only survival. And even in English, some days I hardly manage to survive.
Online, in communities like the one we have here, is where I find my center — the core of my identity that remembers what its like to be bilingual and feel bilingual on a daily basis. Even still, I miss that feeling — the innately human characteristic of manipulating your larynx to create a word and connecting it to your brain to send a message. Doing so in more than one language just adds another element of identity.
Spanish is the language of my grandparents and of my ancestors before them. Spanish is what I used to whisper my farewells to my great grandmother, as I held her hand and she drifted on to the next life. Spanish is how I remember my Papi, speaking to me in his quick, sharp tone, always affirmations of his sometimes angry love. But I live in English, and yes, sometimes I forget that I’m bilingual.
Forgetting that you’re bilingual is essentially forgetting a part of who you are. Losing a bit of your identity because you aren’t paying enough attention to who you once were, and maybe, who you want to become. Forgetting is easy, but once you’ve forgotten, you remember. And then, the growing begins.
Upon a quick Mother’s Day road trip, I remembered I was bilingual. And not even a little bit bilingual, but a lot bilingual. As I found myself in situations communicating with Spanish speakers, strangers and passer bys, the inner most part of my identity emerged to do what I love to do — talk! Learn through experience! And communicate with those around me to form connections and community.
It was the strangest feeling, but it made me so happy. Akin to riding a bike, even when my heart had forgotten that I was bilingual, my body did not. Without even a second’s hesitation, I was making jokes, giving directions, all in Spanish. The look of awe and pride in my daughter’s eyes made the experience that much more memorable. Her mamá is bilingual.
Sometimes we all need gentle reminders, I guess.