Until recently, my six-year-old didn’t want to spend the summer in Mexico. His explained that he didn’t want to speak Spanish all the time, despite the fact that we raised him in Spanish, co-founded PUEDE (Parents United for Excellent Dual Education) and he is in a Dual-Language first-grade classroom. I assured him that we wouldn’t have to speak Spanish all the time, which seemed to do the trick.
What I didn’t tell him is that we’re going to Mexico precisely so that he and his brother will have a chance to speak Spanish in addition to hearing and writing it. Our life in the RGV feels so English-heavy, despite our attempts to teach our kids Spanish. Have you ever wondered,
Why is it such a struggle to raise a bilingual child in the RGV, where 60% of households are Spanish-dominant?
Most RGV moms know Spanish, but many of us don’t speak it well. And even fewer of us can claim written proficiency. Our region has a history of English-only education, in which our collective abuelas and mamas were hit on the hand with a ruler for speaking Spanish as five-year-olds in kindergarten. I’ve even heard stories that they were made to wash out their mouths with soap (can you imagine?). And so, we of the next generation were discouraged from speaking Spanish.
As a result, many of us were discouraged from speaking Spanish. In Borderlands/La Frontera, a collection of poems and essays, Valley native Gloria Anzaldua describes vividly this linguistic shame. Even as an adult, she was forced to take speech classes at Pan Am (now UTRGV) to erase her Mexican accent. Teachers told her that it was for her own good so that she could succeed in America.
Her rebellious spirit, however, made her cling to Spanish, and she never lost it. She majored in English and managed to get her seminal work published in Spanglish, which she calls her third language.
But she is in the minority.
This linguistic history partially explains why this RGV Mom’s Blog is written almost exclusively in English. But it also has to do with privilege, access, blog-culture, and habit. I wonder how we can speak to and with the community of Spanish-dominant RGV Moms. I wonder if we can work to bridge the two cultures that makeup Mexican-Americans in the Valley — many of whom are our children — to nourish both of their souls. In English and in Spanish.
Dual-Language for RGV Kids
Some cities in the RGV don’t even offer dual-language education. But many do, and maybe that’s the best place to start. Remembering who we are — RGV Moms — and where we live — the beautiful Borderlands — can inspire us to give our children the most authentic existence that we can offer them.
What I desire most is that my child not be ashamed of Spanish, of his heritage, of his family.
We all want the same for our kids, right? To be healthy, happy, well-adjusted, kind, truth-tellers who can tell truths in multiple languages. And we should want the same for ourselves.
As part of the “Philosophy for Everyone” series, I will be offering a public lecture in Spanish at the McAllen Public Library on April 11 at 6pm, titled “La Vergüenza Lingüística” (“Linguistic Shame”).