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Confessions of a Latina Mama

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Guest blogger Christina Montoya Fiedler: No hablo español. It's true. I do not speak Spanish, although everyone assumes I do -- and berates me because I don't. I'm in, what I'd like to call, my silent stage. I can understand most and speak some, but not nearly enough to hold a conversation. I've yet to put all the words and phrases I know into complete sentences above a fourth grade level.

Hispanic Baby boy

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five Californians speak Spanish fluently. I am not one of them. Although I am a Mexican American, and am very proud of my culture, I never completely learned, despite many college courses.

While it may be a little late for me, it is not for my six-month-old son. Right now his brain is like a little sponge, soaking up everything and anything. So, together we are brushing up on our Spanish.

At six months, your baby can hear and pick up on many more nuances of speech than you can. For instance, while most adults cannot pick up on the difference between the two "dd" sounds in the Hindi language, your baby can. But a few months from now this ability will fade as your baby pays closer attention to the sounds that are essential to his own native language.

So, on it goes -- with a LOT of help from my mother (who is an English as Second Language teacher in Orange County, where the majority of her students are Spanish speakers). In fact, I can hear her in the other room speaking Spanish with my son Joe. "¿Que quieres comer? Platanos?"

As for me, Joe and I are starting off simple. Water - Agua. Apple - Manzana. Doggie - Perrito.

Growing up in a mostly Hispanic neighborhood in Los Angeles, I got a lot of grief from my fellow Mexican American friends who couldn't wrap their heads around the fact that I did not speak Spanish. "How could you be a real Mexican and not speak Spanish!" they said. We were just in grade school, but the stereotypes were still there.

All in all, I want my son to understand what took me quite a while to realize when I was small -- just be yourself and that is how you can be the best testament to your heritage and family. You could be a Mexican who doesn't speak Spanish -- like me, or one that does. And it doesn't make a difference. Culture is so much more, so much richer, than just a language. It's the food, the people, the family. It's how you live your life.

Join Christina in the momlogic community's Latina Mamas group!

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9 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous February 18, 2009, 9:27 AM

Same her I’m 28 and remembering I was 6 years old watchin the novelas with my grandma and asking her “what is she saying ?”What does that mean”?Thats how people learn the Spanish But I don’t know why it didn’t catch up with me.I’m German and hispanic so both language was spoken very srongly at my house.

Sofia February 18, 2009, 10:44 AM

I speak Spanish pretty well but it’s not my first language. My grandmother and mother in law don’t speak English at all and get on my case when I speak English to my kids. I think it’s great to know both, especially here in Miami where there are so many Spanish only speakers, but I am not going to worry about it. If they pick it up, great. If they don’t, it’s okay too.

Gigohead  February 18, 2009, 11:14 AM

I do feel for the writer. She’s deprived herself of a great culture. It goes beyond the telenovels. I love my culture’s music despite the fact that I don’t read Spanish too well.

Is it too hard to perhaps take a Spanish class at a local university? How about purchase a Berlitz tape and learn some simple phrases? Come on! Let’s stop the excuses.

leelee February 18, 2009, 11:32 AM

I an thrid generation Italian, first not to speak the language. When I asked my Mom why she didn’t teach it to me, her response was: “We are Americans and here we speak English. I don’t want you to suffer the same descrimination your Dad and I did.” While it saddens me, I understand her logic and appriciate she and Dad did what they thought was right. You are correct that the best testamit to your culture/heratige is to be yourself. Good luck to your family and God bless whatever you do.

NYCity Mama February 23, 2009, 11:01 AM

Aw…let’s not be so harsh on the writer (Gigohead). I speak Spanish, Italian, in addition to English fluently. I am very, very proud of my Dominican heritage, and yet have a very difficult time speaking Spanish at home to mis bebes. It doesn’t come naturally. I try, and they understand a lot of what I say. I’ve started reading books in Spanish to them. But again, it doesn’t come naturally to me. Does that make me less Latina? Or less proud of my heritage or supportive of my heritage? My language, my people? Are my children deprived of where I come from, our history? No way! I would say that it is important for any child to learn a second language, such as the times, and it would benefit them to be exposed to it as much as possible. But to not speak the language at home is not a testament to your sense of cultural pride. Pa’ lante! Suerte!

Ju March 2, 2009, 12:42 AM

I’m half-Koreand and part-Black. Through the course of the back-and-forth moves between the states and korea, it took me a long time to learn just one language. I was 6 before I began to speak English fluently, 9 before the school system decided I no longer needed speech therapy. My daughter currently speaks in both languages, though now she seems to understand that Daddy only speaks English. Just because you don’t speak the language doesn’t mean you’re any less proud. My daughter speaks Korean and soon we will be teaching her German because of her Daddy’s heritage. Lack of pride is completely not caring one way or the other about the culture at all.

J April 10, 2009, 12:29 AM

Thank goodness for this article, I am mexican and i do NOT speak spanish. i too received a lot of ridicule for it, which always made me feel bad, and at times made me feel less of a mexican. My mother speaks fluent spanish but just did not feel the need to teach me, she wanted me to speak english only! However, when i decide to have children, I definately want them to learn spanish and will do what i need to do to make sure they learn! Whether it be through my mom or through classes! Great article, thanks for writing it!

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