There comes a time in most immigrant households when parents have to go the extra mile if they want to preserve the Spanish language in the family. It can take the shape of a battle sometimes, when the kid simply refuses to speak the language he or she often understands – to some degree, anyway – but doesn’t feel confident enough to verbalize it.
So they absorb mom or dad's questions and commands in Spanish, no problema, but typically answer everything in English.
Disadvantaged as they are by an entire system operating in English, parents in Los Angeles are experimenting with a new approach to the issue this summer: a full-time camp that immerses the children (ages 5 to 14) into Spanish with scheduled activities throughout the day. It is being offered by the Los Angeles Theatre Academy (LATA), so the teaching dynamic revolves around acting and performing on a stage.
“This is a mission of love. Our life is there,” said Alejandra Flores toFox News Latino. “When you see the shows, you can feel it. You can sense that love and entrega (dedication).”
Flores started the camp five years ago in partnership with the LA Parks and Recreation Department, but had not given it the bilingual twist until this summer. She said parents, from all over Latin America but also Europe and Japan, started to demand they do it in Spanish.
Children perform scenes from plays and musicals – some Spanish-only, others in a mix of Spanish and English – and in the process learn vocabulary words, phrases and songs.
The nine-hour days include classes of singing, improvisation, ballet, yoga and also makeup and costumes.
“Parents come and say ‘I wish there was something like that when I was a child!’” said Flores, who started working with children in theater 15 years ago. “There was so much need for this.”
With 116 students enrolled this year, LATA is a growing but still very small non-profit organization. Food for the camp meals are donated by California Sunrise Foundation, and other big supporters are the Los Angeles County Art Commission and the Department of Cultural Affairs in California.
“We are very creative and we know how to work with two pesos but we don’t have salaries,” she said, explaining there is financial aid available for low-income families as well as scholarships.
Still, Flores hopes to be able to expand the model sometime soon, after the success rate she says she’s seeing this summer. The acting factor, she says, plays a big role, because “they really want to be on stage,” as well as being part of a group dynamic.
“Once they see the rest of the group speaking Spanish, the kids think ‘wait a minute, I can do that too,’” Flores said.