Skip to main content

Two Spanish-Speaking Gringas

When Maya, Mateo, and I were out running errands today I heard a little boy say as we walked by, "They're speaking Spanish!" Two thoughts struck me as we rushed across Target, looking for the bathroom. First, I was impressed that the boy identified what language we were speaking. Then, it made me wonder what people think when they see an undeniably white mama speaking Spanish with her mini-me: a blond, blue-eyed little girl.
For all of Maya's life, we've spoken both English and Spanish at home, as my husband and I made the decision before I even got pregnant to raise our children bilingually. Even when choosing baby names, we thought about this, because we wanted something that was pronounced the same way in English and Spanish, so our children could easily transition from one cultural circle to the other.
Because she has learned both languages since birth, Maya is considered a simultaneous bilingual child. But at this point in time, I would say Spanish is her dominant language. When I was working, Francisco's cousins were her caregivers and they spoke to her only in Spanish, and during the six months that Tia Mari stayed with us, Spanish became the primary language in our home. These were Maya's most linguistic-formative months (18 months to 30 months), and she heard Spanish the most. So it was no surprised when she started speaking more Spanish than English.
For these reasons, I grew accustomed to speaking to Maya in Spanish. Now that I'm home with the kids by myself, I thought a lot about how I wanted to communicate with her. Maya understands almost everything she is told in English (and has a significant English vocabulary, which I refer to as "friends words:" ball, bubbles, candy, cookies.) And she has English vocabulary she has learned from the books we read in English together, like her colors. But the majority of her productive language is Spanish, even when I speak to her in English. If we are out, I'll tell her to say "Thank you," and she'll respond with "Gracias!"
Since my first language is English and we are raising her here in America, it would be very easy to transition to speaking to her primarily in English. But since she spends almost all of her waking hours interacting with me, I want to make sure she doesn't lose the Spanish foundation she has built with her Guatemalan relatives. Therefore I decided to continue to speak to Maya in Spanish, because it feels weird to speak to her in English after we have mainly spoken Spanish for the past eight months of her life. But when we are out in public, I can't help but also feel weird to be speaking a language other than English. When we went out with Tia Mari, it was evident we were speaking in Spanish because were were in the company of a native speaker, but when I'm out with Maya and Mateo by myself, I can't help but notice strangers' quizzical looks. And then I feel like I have to explain. "My husband is from Guatemala," I say. Or, "We are a bilingual household," or "My husband's first language is Spanish." Sometimes I feel like an imposter. But in almost every situation, people are surprised and impressed to see the mother and daughter gringas speaking Spanish, and that encourages me.
When we first moved to Holliston, I was worried to leave the very diverse setting of Framingham for a much more homogenized town. But I've been pleasantly surprised by how many bicultural and bilingual or multi-lingual families we have met through the library programs we frequent. Maya has befriended little ones who speak German, Russian, Portuguese, and Hindi. And those friendships we make help build her community and my resolve in raising emerging bilinguals.
As difficult it is to raise my daughter in my second language, I believe the challenge is worth it. So we will continue to brave the stares and field the questions, because we are proof that bilingual and multicultural comes in all shapes and colors, and that even gringas can speak Spanish!


Popular posts from this blog

Is 5 Little Monkeys Racist?

I’ve seen a lot of Tik Toks debunking children’s nursery rhymes lately. I have two toddlers, so now whenever I hear one of those rhymes, I think about their unsavory origins. But my son loves, loves Five Little Monkeys. He’s just learning to talk, and can almost say it by himself. I’ve thought about telling him to stop singing it since I learned in the original lyrics it’s not monkeys jumping on the bed, but he just gets so much joy from singing it as he jumps up and falls down, I thought... no harm, no foul, right? As long as he thinks the song is about monkeys, it’s ok.  Until my niece came over one day, and the three toddlers were playing on an old mattress we have on the living room floor for them to jump around on. My son asked me to sing 5 Little Monkeys. At first it was cute, because they literally were jumping on the bed, but then I took a good look at the three of them.  My kids are half-Guatemalan but very fair, like I am. Whereas my niece is half-black, and her skin happens

Why You Should Travel with Little Kids

I took my first cross-country road trip when I was six-weeks-old. My parents loaded me up in an old Ford Wagoneer and drove me home from my dad's hometown of Pittsburgh, PA, to my hometown of Ojai, CA. After that, we traveled back and forth between the East Coast and the West Coast every summer of my life. A few times we flew, but most years we loaded up the car with the suitcases, the dogs, and the children and drove 3,000 miles across the country. This early exposure to travel instilled within me a joy of seeing the world, and since that first trip I have visited 34 states and 14 countries. And I hope to share that same joy with my own little ones. Traveling with children can be hard--it disrupts their nap schedules, may involve crossing timelines, and definitely pushes everyone beyond their comfort zones. But seeing different countries and different parts of our country as children gives them a greater appreciation for cultural and regional differences, and it widens their exper

Reflections on Immigrant Life and the American Dream by a New Citizen

  Buenos días estudiantes de sexto grado. Mi nombre es Audelina Barrios, and I am a former student of Fuller Middle School. Soy de Guatemala, y viví mis primeros trece años de mi vida en mi tierra natal, pero desafortunadamente perdí a mis padres cuando tenía 12 años. Mi hermano y yo fuimos huérfanos por un año hasta que tomamos la decisión de empezar nuestro viaje hacia los United States to meet our oldest siblings.  In August of 2014 we finally arrived in the land of our dreams, the United States. During our first 4 months in the US, we lived in New Jersey with my oldest sister, Rosa, and went to a school where ESL didn't even exist. I was paired up with the only Latino in the school y sin saber una palabra en inglés. I felt like an outsider because I had no other friends and like I wasn't even part of the school system.  In January 2015 my older brother Francisco and his wife, Mae, adopted us and we moved to Framingham. My first school in Framingham was Fuller Middle School