I am a product of bi-cultural and bilingual parenting. Both of my parents are first generation immigrants in the United States. I was born and raised in Wisconsin but spent most of my summers and holiday vacations in Mexico City. I spent time with family, but mostly was being taken care of because mamá had to work. I remember coming home to Wisconsin with CDs (and cassettes before that) by Jeans or Banda Recodo (hottest pop and banda in the ’90s) and playing them non-stop. It was my mission to learn the lyrics by the next trip back to Mexico so I could be just like my cousins, only to realize that I didn’t know the dance moves to the songs, which made me stand out. I didn’t feel Mexican enough.
I started pre-school in the US around age four. I have a vivid memory of sitting and playing with other kids and hearing them speak, but having no idea what they were saying. I don’t remember struggling to actually learn English, but I struggled learning to write and comprehend at the same level as my peers. When Thanksgiving time rolled around, in school we would do activities and talk about the traditional food. I sometimes said my family would be eating turkey, just like everyone else although I knew we would probably be eating arroz, frijoles, and carnitas. But that didn’t feel American enough.
Eduard James Olmos in the movie Selena says, “We got to prove to the Mexicans how Mexican we are. We got to prove to the Americans how American we are. We gotta be more Mexican than the Mexicans and more American than the Americans, both at the same time. It’s exhausting!”
It is so exhausting! When Mexico played the United States in soccer, people would ask me who I was going to cheer for; the pressure was real! As a young adult it didn’t get easier. It wasn’t until I was about twenty-five years-old that I realized I didn’t have to pick a side, I could just be me.
Becoming a Bi-cultural and Bilingual Parent
After realizing and accepting that I didn’t have to be one or the other, I thought it would get easier…until I became a parent. Questions like: “Are you going to speak English or Spanish to her?” “When are you taking her to Mexico?” were asked almost immediately after my daughter was born. My initial thought was, Spanish of course! But then, my college English class came to mind and the time when the professor asked me, “How do you not know the difference between in and on?” In a drawer, on a desk is something I still think of when writing. To be completely honest, we decided to speak only Spanish at home but I still struggle with that decision. Just because I know it will be best in the long run, doesn’t mean I don’t have my concerns about it.
How do I help my daughter navigate the in-between? Will she even feel that way I did, will she gravitate to one culture or language more than the other? These are questions I don’t have answers to and may never will. I am learning to take it day by day and feel reassured that we are doing the best we can.