Last weekend, I visited my family in south Texas after a long overdue spread from my last trip. We went out to eat at a restaurant and ran into a family friend, Mexican-American, too, and who was, of course, enchanted by my boy, Manuel (Carolina, also featured in this pic, was with her mother visiting other family). When this woman began to talk to Manuel in English, my mom corrected her by instructing her to speak to him in Spanish because he doesn’t understand English. Body language said it all!
She looked at me, his father, with these eyes that made 2 simultaneous statements: 1) what’s wrong with you putting your child at a disadvantage? and 2) what? are you too good to speak American? She gave me a look and made facial gestures that are familiar to those of us who choose to do things differently, and these kinds of acts are offensive to the mainstream thinking of the day. With such physical and unspoken communication, the body language is meant to say nothing at all while having no intention of being subtle at all of his/her disapproval and confusion for any way of thinking outside the box.
I explained that my sisters and I are at a disadvantage for not having had the ability to speak Spanish when we were young and, likely, I’ll be the only one amongst us that will speak Spanish as we are all adults now. For me, I further explained, it’s important that my children learn the language of our culture in our home while they learn Spanish outside the house. This is America. Of course, they are going to absorb English, like the little sponges they are as children. They are surrounded by it so Spanish is the priority so that they don’t lose their identity as fluent Spanish speakers.
After all, that’s why we are called Mexican, first, and American, second. My children won’t have ambivalent cultural identities; instead, they will pave the way for what it means to be Mexican-American in America, as Hispanics become the majority in the 21st Century.