Although my close friends would probably describe me as strong, confident, and determined, all those adjectives seemed to vanish when it came to dropping off my miracle twins at preschool for the first time. Just so you get a clearer idea of what I have been feeling, for a few weeks now I’ve had the need to write and get off my chest all the emotions swirling inside me, but denial has won the battle every time I tried. Instead I’ve put all that energy into working on Baby’s B 1st year’s photo album, which I have guiltily not finished.
This preschool adventure started about a year ago when we began evaluating preschools in the area. Around this time it became apparent how overly analytical I am. I made a long excel spreadsheet with the pros and cons of around 15 schools we had selected to visit and rate based on comments and reviews from friends and family, as well as online descriptions and accreditation statuses that we had to consider.
I even asked my wonderful best friend, Maria, a Harvard graduate on Early Childhood Education, to come join my family in the search for the best school to match my daughters’ needs and our budget. Obviously, that astonishing dream-like school that was my first choice was way over our budget, and having twins, well, there was little we could do about stretching it, and so we chose awesome school #2.
One of the minuses of awesome school #2? Instruction is 100% in English, and by now, most of you know how important is it for me to raise bilingual and bicultural daughters. I want my daughters to be comfortable speaking both languages from a very early age, and as soon as they have those down, you can be sure, I will go for more. I learned to communicate in three languages, French being the third, but there is a lot of room for improvement in that one. Oddly enough, although Spanish is and was my first language growing up in Dominican Republic, when it comes time to express my feelings in writing, I can do it as easily in English as in Spanish, so here’s a shout out to all those great and really tough English teachers that helped me achieve this, and to my parents for giving the gift and opportunity to be multilingual.
Back to the point, during the first two years of their lives, the girls have solely learned to communicate in Spanish. Although I am excited that they will learn English now, after visiting their preschool last week, I became a bit fearful and anxious that our great Spanish language would lose it’s ‘coolness’ soon. It was even harder to hear the Director’s honest comment about certain moms, like myself, whose children started their school journey only speaking Spanish, and that later in the year said, “now my child only wants to speak English.”
It was, however, interesting and positive to hear that the director was truly concerned about this problem, because she cannot help but wonder if the school itself has played a role in the kids’ reaction. Now she wants to start including at least 10 minutes of Spanish during class so that the children can see that other languages are accepted and welcomed at the school. I applaud this initiative, as well as the thoughtfulness and willingness to see the problem, and look for a method that might decrease the negative outcome of our children refusing to speak Spanish.
So what do I think? Well, in my personal opinion, as a mom and an aunt to over 14 older nieces and nephews, I have seen that once school is in English, friends all communicate in English, TV is also enjoyed in English, and you can literally ‘get by’ in this country speaking only one language, the challenge is real. So what do we, as Mamá Patas, need to do? We must make our culture FUN for our children to enjoy! Please note the word: culture, not language. How many friends that are multilingual do you know that simply know another language because they love the culture behind it? I know plenty. Personally, I learned French and tried Italian for this very same reason.
Once our children truly enjoy our culture: our music, our food, our sayings, our unique traditions, it will only be natural for them to want to understand and speak the language; to want to submerge themselves in that ‘other world.’ So as a Mamá Pata, I always do, and always will encourage other Mamá Patas do the following:
#1 – Enjoy dancing to songs in Spanish, whether they are child-friendly or just plain fun: merengues, salsas, son, bachata, cumbia, tango, and more.
#2 – Read interesting and fun books written originally in Spanish – not translations. Who chooses to read a book translated into another language if you can read it in the original language?
#3 - Motivate your children to love our traditions, whether it is “El carnival,” “El día de los muertos,” or whichever your family celebrates.
#4 – Teach your children our sayings y “refranes”: it will make them feel more Latino street-smart and confident, while it is makes them use their brains to understand how that phrase means something else.
#5 – If they watch cartoons or play apps, make sure to search for cultural content in Spanish that is not only limited to “Red is Rojo.” That’s boring and memory games like that are not amusing for anyone. Children will relate more to cartoons and apps that promote our culture; they will promote in your children their heritage and their interest in our language.
#6 – Sing and play with your kids traditional games like “A la rueda, rueda,” “Matarile” and “Timarinde, Dos Pingue” which will show them that you can be playful, cool, and amusing in Spanish.
#7 – Show them you love your heritage and that you are proud of it. A simple way is wearing clothes that reflect your culture. It will only make them love themselves more and have better self-esteem. It’s been said many times, you cannot love yourself if you don’t know who you are, so enlighten them.
#8 – Always make sure to address your children in Spanish so that they can understand that this language is mommy’s preferred language – or the family’s preferred, depending on your case.
#9 – Demand that they answer back in Spanish even if you need to help them translate it. Have them repeat it. Practice makes it perfect.
#10 – Above all, ENJOY, LIVE and BREATHE your culture. The best way to teach is by example, so make sure to show your Lanuguitos that being Hispanic is “cool.” That our “sazón” is a spice that makes us friendly, loud, fun and passionate. It brings out a sense of community and support within us, and it makes us able to embrace and welcome new friends like family. Hispanics are always inclusive of others – never exclusive.
Truth be told, I am so relieved and happy I wrote this because now, I feel much less anxious and fearful, and far more confident that I will raise two little girls who will be able to seamlessly transition between languages and cultures without even noticing. It will just be what they are, true Hispanic Americans: “Americanas y Latinas de Corazón”.