Monday, 13 June 2011 00:00

Growning up in a bicultural home

Written by Lisa Borden Lange
Growning up in a bicultural home Lisa Lange

Sitting at his kitchen table, Juan Rojas, known as Johnny, smiles as his little sister runs around the table.  There are photographs throughout the Johnson City home of family members near and far.

Johnny, whose family is from Mexico, is a senior in high school looking forward to his future. Being bilingual can make it easier for him to find employment. Johnny said he once worked for a restaurant that needed someone who was bilingual, because some of the workers spoke Spanish.

“I want to be a barber, and go to cosmetology school. But I still want to go to college, just in case for anything. It’s always good to go to college,” he said. 

Johnny feels lucky to be able to do this.  He knows it’s not always as easy for other kids.             

“For Hispanics it’s pretty hard to get to college,” Johnny said.  “I would say for all teens, Hispanic or any from a bilingual home, to go to college is really important. School’s before anything, and working.” 

 Johnny’s mom, Laura, mentioned the importance of her children keeping the traditions, talking in Spanish, and keeping up with cooking Hispanic food -- which Johnny admits he’s not doing. 

“I speak a lot of English with my family, but with my grandma I speak a lot of Spanish,” Johnny said.  “She doesn’t know that much English.  I’m trying to learn how to speak more Spanish.”

Johnny’s grandmother, Paula Lopez, sees the problem of children not wanting to retain their language. “They don’t want to speak Spanish much,” Paula said.  “They speak it very little.”

Being from Mexico, she is also aware of something else.     

“The kids in Mexico act more their age,” she said, “and here they are growing up so fast.” 

Johnny’s aunt, Iveth Lopez, understands that in some parts of the country, learning English is more important.

“When I moved from Florida to here, I wasn’t even speaking a lot of English at that time,” Iveth said.  “When I moved here, I had to really learn English and speak English. I decided to go to school and learn it.”

In Johnny’s family, anything that brings them together is welcomed. 

The traditions of the house are typical of most cultures: getting together at holidays, like Christmas, having family reunions, and celebrating everyone’s birthday. But sharing meals is important, too.

“We have to eat together at the table. It’s a must,” Iveth said. 

She said children are taught respect for their elders. 

“You have to kiss your mother and you have to kiss your grandmother when you go to see her,” Iveth said.  “If you are offered food in a Hispanic home, you take and eat it, out of honor.” 

A few miles away on a beautiful afternoon, Camila, 8, stays close to her 9-year-old brother, Pablo. They wait for their mother, Claudia, to arrive for a family photo with their father, Luis, and sister, college student Natalia.Rivas-Lopez family

Natalia chose a college a few miles from home so she could still be a part of her family, because of the values her parents instilled in her.

“Ever since I was little it was a lot about doing family-related things,” Natalia said.  “In high school I would want to go with my friends and I’d have to keep in balance having family time set aside and having friend time set aside." By staying close to home for college, she could maintain that balance.

“I’d be able to go to my brother and sister’s soccer games and help them out,” she said as she sat next to her sister and played with her hair.

Participating in one another’s lives is important in her family. Last year Camila’s parents came to her second grade class to teach about Chile, the country they left around 20 years ago.

The couple brought items from Chile: some instruments, toys, a Chilean Barbie doll, and a little toy statue, or moai, found on Easter Island, Camila said. They also performed the Cueca, Chile’s national dance.

Sometimes Spanish-speaking parents grow concerned when the children seem to prefer English over Spanish. 

“It’s a conflict and constant struggle to make them speak Spanish, because they understand just about everything,” Luis said. “That’s what we do at home: We speak Spanish 90 percent of the time.  So, getting them to speak Spanish is the most difficult thing.”

“I know two languages,” Camila tells a visitor.

Her parents want her to understand why that is important.

“One thing the kids need to understand [is] that to be bilingual is a very good advantage for them in the future, Claudia said. 

Spanish-speaking parents in the Unites States know that learning and understanding English is not a problem for children as they grow up here, but it is harder for them to keep their Spanish.

“It’s a struggle that we have every day, because they tend to speak in English at home,” Claudia said.  “So when they speak Spanish they don’t speak very well.”

Claudia said the couple wants the children to speak English, which is an advantage when they are growing up. But she does not want them to forget their first language.

“I see, not only in our family, but in a lot of other families we know, that the kids lost the language,” she said.  “Spanish is not a second language for them, they can understand, but they can’t speak it.”

Even if children understand how important it is to speak both languages, it is hard for them to do. 

“When the children speak English, the parent speaks to the children in English, instead of in Spanish,” Natalia said.  “So the parents accommodate for their children’s preference, which is easier.”

To help their younger children retain their Spanish, Luis and Claudia do two things that their children enjoy.

“We do Spanish classes with mom, and it’s just us because we don’t know as much Spanish as they do, but we know more than kids do here,” Pablo said. 

“We read, answer questions and we write in Spanish.  Every two weeks we read a book in Spanish and then we do a one-page report about it.” 

Pablo enjoys comics in Spanish.  Luis explained that the children even watch cartoons from Chile.  

“Every Sunday there’s this show called “Tronia” and it’s for kids.  It’s in the mornings and it’s funny sometimes.  It’s like these puppets that live in the Chilean world and they are like on the news at the end of the show,” Camila said.

Natalia said that the hardest thing about coming from a two-cultural home is finding herself in both cultures. 

“It’s OK to be from two different cultures,” Natalia said.  The pride in her dual cultures is seen on her face. 

“You have to be kind of an ambassador of your culture,” she said. “You have to stand up and even talk about it in class. You have to be like, ‘Hey, where I come from it’s not seen like this.’ You don’t really have to agree with everyone just because you are from a different culture.”

Having lived here for some time, the family gave advice for other parents bringing children up in a two-cultural home. 

“The parents need to try to speak their language in the home,” Claudia said.  “If the kids know I speak English outside of the home and Spanish at home, that will be good for them for the future.  Try to be proud of your culture, where you come from.”

Natalia said that respect for family is part of most cultures.

“It’s good to have a family basis, because if you can’t really rely on your family, then that creates a whole lot of problems, psychology and emotionally,” she said. Knowing this helps everyone understand his or her place in society.

“It’s good to have a balanced life between the two cultures,” Natalia’s father, Luis, said. “Because I will always believe that there are pros and cons in each one.  So try to keep the good things from your culture and take the best from the culture where your kids are being raised.”

Photo, left: Natalia Rivas, Clauda Lopez and Luis Rivas, with Camila and Pablo, speak Spanish at home. Photo by Lisa Borden Lange

Read 1828 times Last modified on Friday, 23 May 2014 22:13