October 9, 2009

Leaving a Bilingual Footprint

I teeter between two worlds.

By day, I’m your typical acculturated 30-something. A die-hard fan of “Sex and the City” who goes goo goo gaga for Tiffanys & Co., and savors a daily dose of vanilla latte. In many ways – pura gringa.

At night, I go to a multi generational home - one that hasn’t changed much since I was born. I was raised by my abuelo and abuela ever since my mom left the tiny country of El Salvador in search of the big American Dream. I watch “Jose Luis sin Censura,” eat platanos con crema y frijoles, and have heard “Tiempo de Vals” by Chayanne at more quinceañeras than I can count. (Don’t get me started on this one). I’m a fiery Latina – a member of a minority that will one day be the majority.

Today, I can honestly say that I’m a better person having embraced both cultures, and I wave both flags with pride. The marriage of the Salvadoran/American cultures makes me who I am today: Angelina (Angie) Valencia-Martinez, a professional. A happy wife and proud mamacita who values family and tradition more than anything in the world. A bilingual acculturated Latina who can switch from one world to the other – in both my personal and professional lives. This has had its advantages. Advantages I intend to pass along to my son – Frank.

Everyone talks about leaving a footprint, a mark in the world. Well, Frank Adam Martinez born on 2-7-07 is mine. He is a happy-go-lucky toddler who loves Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, soccer, and music. He lives in my two worlds too. And I’m raising him to be bilingual.

While I’m at work, Abuela Maria and Abuelo Chico talk to Frank in our native tongue: español. When they go out for walks, they point out the “avion,” plane, “ardillas,” squirrels, and “gato,” cat. Every day, I watch him have long conversations with abuelo and abuela, and I beam.
But when Frank talks to his daddy or me, he speaks English, usually in the form of “I want this!”

There are some clear benefits to Frank being bilingual: According to the Multilingual Children’s Association, multilingualism has been proven to help children develop superior reading and writing skills. Multilingual children also tend to have over-all better analytical, social, and academic skills than their monolingual peers. Good reasons to raise him bilingual. But then there’s the part about opportunity.

For me, being a bilingual journalist turned PR practitioner has opened twice as many doors as being a monolingual one would ever. I want the same opportunities for my son. President Frank Martinez? Why not?

When I graduated from California State University Northridge, I was employed by the Ventura County Star newspaper and also wrote for their Spanish publication, Mi Estrella. When I decided to cross over to public relations, I had the option of working at a firm in the general market sector or one that handled Hispanic PR. It’s nice to know there are options.

For more than a year, I’ve worked at RLPR developing programs in both English and Spanish. One minute I’m facilitating a TV segment with a Spanish speaker at Univision, the next at an ABC station. During my tenure here, I’ve met telenovela actor Juan Soler, boxing sensation Manny Pacquiao, and State Superintendent Jack O’Connell – a big deal to me since I’m a news junkie.

So today, as I sit comfortably in my desk I think back to the times when I used to help my mom clean other people’s houses for a living. She would always stress the importance of an education and how far it would one day take me. Still she urged me to never forget where I came from because that is who I am: una Latina con orgullo.

Gracias mamá por no dejarme que olvide de dónde vengo. That is a task I plan to carry on with my son.

How do you think raising your child to be bilingual makes a difference?


Thoughts of a Mommy/Pensamientos de una Mama said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Thoughts of a Mommy/Pensamientos de una Mama said...

What a wonderful post, Angie. What you are instilling in your son's life , is far greater than any gift you can present to him. Being bilingual, to me, is such a gift, I BIG TIME regret not teaching it to my kids.

Dariela said...

I love being bilingual and bicultural too! isn't it great?!! we have so many open doors in front of us and so will our children!

Brent said...

I wish I'd grown up bilingual-- my parents both speak Spanish with varying fluency, but I didn't pick it up until I was in my late teens. As a result, I still sound like a four year old when I speak-- good idea to start early, it'll only help your kids later on.

pina said...

Really enjoyed reading this piece. As a gringa/latina raised bilingual by my Mexican mother and American dad, I, too have used my Spanish in my work and to connect with others who speak the language. It's been a huge benefit. It's thrilling to watch as report after report validates the value when it comes to abstract learning, math, reading, like you mentioned.

We are raising our kids to speak Spanish, which is no small task. We have a website with tips for bilingual families, and invite visitors to check it out. Singalingo.com.

Thanks for the post!

Salvi31 said...

I love being bilingual cause you have so many more oppportinies and so will our children. They will have a lot more doors that will open in their future. Teaching our children to speak both languanges is a challenge because some of our kids don't want to learn how to speak spanish. I'm proud to be an american citizen and also very proud to be a Salvadorian.

Heather said...

Thank you Angie for talking about an all too important topic in an world that is becoming increasingly mulilingual and multicultural. I am a firm believer in not only bilingualism but biliteracy. Through words we share our histories thereby instilling deep roots for generations to come.

Maile said...

I really enjoyed reading your post, Angie. Frank is very lucky to have his parents and grandparents to teach him English and Spanish. He'll thank you when he needs to take a foreign language in school. It is beautiful to learn about different cultures and their languages. I think one appreciates life a little more.

Jennifer said...

Angie! What an insight on this topic. It's good that you instill your culture with you son. It is the greatest gift you can give him. I wish I was better with my Spanish and that the day I have kids, I will have pass it on to them. Being bilingual and bicultural is great! I'm fortunate to come from a family with Spanish/American Indian/Mexican hertiage. I just wish though growing up my mom would have taught me Spanish. She felt that her Spanish was more slang, therefore, she wanted us to learn Spanish in school - this way we would be able to read, write and speak it. However, just like learning an instrument - if you don't practice, you'll forget it. However, I don't regret it. I did take Spanish in high school. Though I did ok, I do try to speak it. I have the best of both worlds and embrace my culture. My parents taught us to be proud of who you are. I hope one day when I have my family, I will be able to pass it on and teach them to embrace their ethnicity.

Theresa said...

Great piece Angie! I feel exactly the same way...I love when my girls point something out to me in Spanish, or use a new Spanish word around me. It means our efforts are taking root.

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you want to instill two wonderful cultures to your son. It allows one to embrace and respect one's own culture, and others as well. I wish more parents can do the same.......

Ana L. Flores said...

Such a great post to read since you can feel the heart in it.
Your son will appreciate everything you´re doing to instill in him an identity and a personality that is his own.
Bravo mamá!!!

Silvia said...

Bien dicho Angie!! I love your post. I didn't grew up in a bilingual or bicultural environment, all I knew was Spanish and being a Mexicana, until I met my husband and moved to USA almost 8 years ago. And now all I know is bilingualism and biculturalism :) and I want my children to have the best of both worlds, it's not an easy task, considering that all my family is back in Mexico, I wish my parents would live close to us! my children don't have this advantage, but I will do anything so they can be comfortable in both enviroments.

Elizabeth said...

Amazing post! Being first generation mexican-american, there can be its pros and cons. Although the cons outweight the pros, it is good you teach your son both of you cultures and to embrace it. My father and mother as well have taught me that. Having the benefit of both cultures surely has given me opprotunities in my field of work and to help out my community.

Literanista said...

I am so glad to be bilingual - I think it's such a huge part of our cultural identity and such a beautiful, rich part at that

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