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My Statement of Biliteracy

 When I was a little girl, I was terrified to hit the piñata at my best friend’s birthday party. It wasn’t the actual piñata that I was scared of, but the jeers of her friends and family in Spanish. I didn’t know what they were saying, so the encouraging shouts of “arriba!” and “dale!” were disarming. Oftentimes my parents and I were the only English speakers there.

Growing up in Southern California, I was surrounded by Spanish but I didn’t officially start my journey as an emerging bilingual until I was in high school. My dad’s best friend was Mexican, so it was only natural that his daughter became my best friend, too. Even though she was born in Mexico, she lived her entire life in the US, only traveling to Mexico for family vacations. Since she spoke English fluently, it was the language of our friendship. 


In high school I took my first Spanish classes and I was motivated by mission trips and service trips to Mexico to learn the language. A conscientious and diligent student, I was nearly fluent in Spanish by 12th grade, and the day that I understood a joke told in Spanish at my best friend’s 16th birthday party was a turning point for me. I was no longer that scared little girl who didn’t understand what was being said around her.


Although I took a Spanish literature and composition course in college and I even studied abroad in Spain, without speaking the language every day, my fluency quickly diminished. As an ESL teacher, I had enough conversational Spanish to communicate with students’ parents, but when I came to Framingham and almost all of my students spoke Brazilian Portuguese, I didn’t have many chances to practice Spanish. 


Now, when people ask me how I learned Spanish, I usually give the credit to my husband. Because it wasn’t until I met him and spent time with his family and friends that all the Spanish I had learned in my youth came back to me. And when we adopted his youngest brother and sister from Guatemala and our home language officially became Spanish, that made all the difference. I was finally in a Spanish immersion program in my own home and my vocabulary and my fluency grew exponentially.



So when Maya and Mateo came along, I was ready. I’d already had a few years of experience as a mom speaking Spanish to Audelina and Justo. While it has been a challenge to maintain Spanish as our home language in an English-dominant country, I am so happy I made that choice.



And it’s funny because since I speak Spanish to all the kids in my home, it’s my first reaction to speak Spanish to other kids I encounter. (Especially when I’m responding emotionally!) One day I had a 7th grade student who was particularly struggling with self-regulation in my ESL class, and my first response was to start counting to him in Spanish (because when my toddlers are misbehaving I count to three for them and they know to stop what they’re doing and make a better choice.) “UNO!” I called out… and then caught myself and laughed. In a moment of stress, my first response was to speak Spanish instead of English. And it worked--the 7th grader took his seat and we resumed our lesson. 


My journey as an emerging bilingual traverses continents and decades of my life. It is an important part of my identity and my family’s identity, and one step in building a more accepting multilingual and multicultural world. 


 

Cuando era niña, me aterrorizaba golpear la piñata en la fiesta de cumpleaños de mi mejor amiga. No era la piñata real que me asustaba, sino las burlas de los amigos y familiares en español. No sabía lo que decían, así que los gritos de “¡arriba!” y "¡dale!" me asustaron. Usualmente, mis padres y yo éramos los únicos gringos allí.


Al crecer en el sur de California, estaba rodeado de español, pero no comencé oficialmente mi viaje como bilingüe emergente hasta que estaba en la escuela secundaria. El mejor amigo de mi papá era mexicano, así que era natural que su hija también se convirtiera en mi mejor amiga. Aunque nació en México, ella vivió toda su vida en los EE. UU. y solo viajaba a México por vacaciones familiares. Como ella hablaba inglés fluente, era el idioma de nuestra amistad.


En la escuela secundaria, tomé mis primeras clases de español y los viajes misioneros y los viajes de servicio a México me motivaron para aprender el idioma. Un estudiante concienzuda y diligente, yo casi hablaba español con fluidez en el grado 12, y el día que entendí un chiste contado en español en el cumpleaños del año 16 de mi mejor amiga fue un punto de inflexión para mí. Yo ya no era esa niña asustada que no entendía lo que se decía a su alrededor.


Aunque tomé un curso de literatura y composición en español en la universidad e incluso estudié en España, sin hablar el idioma todos los días, mi fluidez disminuyó rápidamente. Como profesora de ESL, tenía suficiente español conversacional para comunicarse con los padres de mis estudiantes, pero cuando llegué a Framingham y casi todos mis estudiantes hablaban portugués brasileño, no tuve muchas oportunidades de practicar español.


Ahora, cuando la gente me pregunta cómo aprendí español, le doy el crédito a mi esposo. Porque no fue hasta que lo conocí y pasé tiempo con su familia y amigos que todo el español que había aprendido en mi juventud volvió a mí. Y cuando adoptamos a su hermano y hermana menores de Guatemala y nuestro idioma de hogar se convirtió oficialmente en español, eso marcó la diferencia. Finalmente yo estaba en un programa de inmersión de español en mi propia casa y mi vocabulario y mi fluidez crecieron exponencialmente.


Entonces, cuando llegaron Maya y Mateo, estaba lista. Ya tenía algunos años de experiencia como mamá hablando español con Audelina y Justo. Aunque fue difícil mantener el español como nuestro idioma de casa en un país donde predomina el inglés, estoy muy feliz de haber tomado esa decisión.


Y es chistoso porque como les hablo español a todos los niños en mi casa, es mi primera reacción hablar español a otros niños que encuentro. (¡Especialmente cuando estoy respondiendo emocionalmente!) Un día tuve un estudiante de séptimo grado que estaba particularmente luchando con la autorregulación en mi clase de ESL, y mi primera respuesta fue comenzar a contarle en español (porque cuando mis niños pequeños se están portando mal cuento hasta tres para ellos y ellos saben que deben dejar de hacer lo que están haciendo y hacer una mejor decisión.) "¡UNO!" Grité a mi estudiante malcriado... y luego me reí. En un momento de estrés, mi primera respuesta fue hablar español en lugar de inglés. Y funcionó: el alumno de séptimo grado se sentó y continuamos nuestra lección.


Mi viaje como bilingüe emergente atraviesa continentes y décadas de mi vida. Es una parte importante de mi identidad y de la identidad de mi familia, y un paso en la construcción de un mundo multilingüe y multicultural más tolerante.





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