By the time my parents brought me to this country, my cultural identity had already been formed. Spanish was not something my parents had to force upon me—it was my first language and I’d been surrounded by it for more than 14 years (save for the 9 months we lived in South Africa).
They didn’t have to worry about teaching me the history of our ancestors or the geography of our homeland.
Nor did they have to try to explain the importance of family – abuelos, tíos, primos and padrinos included – by poring through photographs and videos in an attempt to shorten the distance between us.
By the time my parents brought me to this country, there was no doubt in my mind that I was Peruvian first and foremost.
That’s surely not the case for my children. They both were born and are being raised in Denver, Colorado. Far, far away from either Peru or Puerto Rico, their father’s homeland. And while they, unlike me, are first and foremost American, I feel I still have a responsibility to teach them where they came from, to pass along my mother tongue, to instill in them a love for a culture they will never fully understand. And that’s a pretty tough job.
So far, although both my nenes are still very little, we’ve succeeded in making Spanish their first language. Even so, language exposure is already a completely different experience for them than it was for me.
They live in a cocoon where the only language spoken – at least 99 percent of the time – is Spanish. Yet, as soon as they venture to the outside world, English takes over with a vengeance. The majority language is everywhere, as it should be. But that makes the uphill battle even steeper.
The true test is coming up real soon. My daughter starts kindergarten in exactly two weeks. (My son is 2.) They say full-fledged school is where everything can change. I guess now we’ll just kind of wait and see, but I can’t imagine having to tell my daughter I don’t understand her if she – like most bilingual and bicultural kids do at some point – starts refusing to speak to me in Spanish. I can’t even fathom that.
In terms of the cultural/historical and familial aspects of raising bicultural children, my kids are still way too young to truly grasp what it all means. While I don’t think it’s ever too early to start exposing your children to the Latino culture, I think I’ll be able to do a lot more when mine get a bit older.
In the meantime, I always speak highly and lovingly of my birth country, of its traditions, culture and food in the hopes that some of my own pride rubs off on them.
Roxana A. Soto is an Emmy-winning Peruvian-born, Denver-based bilingual journalist and the co-founder of SpanglishBaby.com.