Do you think you can raise bilingual children?
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Mark Sanchez. You have given a flicker of hope to all of us Hispanic moms who bemoan the fact that we weren’t able to raise our kids to speak both English and Spanish.
Sanchez, the Mexican-American NFL quarterback who earlier this month signed a one-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys, recently spoke about his experience of not being able to speak to his legions of Latino fans in Spanish.
Sanchez has taken hits from those people who believe that speaking Spanish is a litmus test that definitively separates “Latinos in Name Only” from “real Latinos.” You might recall similar sniping during the presidential primaries when Ted Cruz and Democratic VP-hopeful Julian Castro were deemed by some to not be authentically Latino because of their monolingualism.
Sanchez was brought up in a household with two fluently bilingual Mexican-American parents who spoke Spanish at home. But he just didn’t pick it up — and that’s quite representative of many young Hispanics.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Hispanic Trends Project, the percentage of U.S.born Latinos 5 and older who speak Spanish at home declined slightly from 67 percent in 1980 to 60 percent in 2013.
I’ve spoken with countless Hispanic parents who just weren’t able to get bilingualism to stick in their households, and some are fine with it.
Last year, I interviewed Manuel Delgado, an immigrant from Venezuela who settled in Houston and married a local he described as “a blue-eyed cowgirl.” He told me that though she does speak Spanish, he sticks to English when he’s at home with her and their two teenage daughters.
My household is in a different camp. While my husband — who is white and not a Spanish speaker — wishes our sons were bilingual in any language, I rue the day that our household went from being aspirationally bilingual to English-only.
It happened around the time our first-born, who had been an underweight preemie, was about 18 months old and still not talking. After consulting with doctors and speech pathologists — and considering drastic measures such as surgery to “untie” the tongue — we embarked on a journey that included picture boards and sign language for basic communication.
All the experts suggested that we stick to English so as to not aggravate the speech delay and — frightened young parents that we were — we backed off our original plans to speak to our kids in both languages.
Eventually we tried to re-institute some bilingualism in the home, but the die had been cast and I — and grandma and grandpa, and all the other Spanish speakers in the family — just got used to always communicating in the common language of English.
My husband and I tried putting the boys in Spanish lessons and thought, misguidedly, that enrolling them in a school district where over half the students were native Spanish speakers would make a difference. But nothing took.
My youngest son adores teasing me by flirting with the idea of learning German. Sometimes (when he’s sucking up to me) he even suggests that I start speaking to him in Spanish.
My first-born, who to this day is a boy of few words, is starting to consider how speaking Spanish might ease his travels should he want to spend some time in his grandparents’ native countries. So thereis hope. Who knows, in a few years, I — like Sanchez’s mother, Olga — may have the pleasure of hearing my adult sons conquer the challenges of rolling their R’s.
Esther Cepeda’s email address is email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter, @ estherjcepeda.
Esther J. Cepeda Columnist