Do you think you can raise bilin­gual chil­dren?

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - OPINION - Es­ther Cepeda

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 es­ther­j­cepeda@wash­ Fol­low her on Twit­ter, @ es­ther­j­cepeda.

Es­ther J. Cepeda Colum­nist

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