My friend Lisa showed me an old picture of five generations of women in her family gathered in Puerto Rico between the ages 4 months and 100 years old. Her daughter brought her baby from the States so her grandmother and great grandmother could see her.
“How lucky you are,” I told her. “It’s rare that so many generations can be alive at the same time.” Lisa had been raised by her mother in New York and by her grand mother in Puerto Rico. Her mother was working night shifts and couldn’t care for her. “Did you speak Spanish when you went back to Puerto Rico?” I asked. “Yes, my mother never allowed me to speak anything but Spanish at home. She didn’t want me to forget my roots. My schoolteachers wanted my mother to speak English to me but she refused. She new my only chance to be bilingual was to speak Spanish at home.” So Lisa learned to speak Spanish in the States, but didn’t learn to write it until she went to school in Puerto Rico.
Later, Lisa married another Puerto Rican and had three daughters. “Did you speak Spanish at home?” I asked again. “No,” she said sheepishly, “We kept Spanish as our secret language until our daughters were old enough to understand us. We thought they would get confused if they learned both languages. We wanted them to learn correct English, not Spanglish.”
I‘ve discussed this language dilemma with other people from different cultures. “It’s not easy,” my friend Lisset says. “My eight-year-old son, Marcel, understands Spanish but will only respond in English.” “I am American, not Cuban” declares Marcel. Pedro, another nuyorican, told me: “First generations normally want to integrate fully to the US and will only speak English to their children; unless they don’t know how to speak it themselves. The second generation is normally upset for not speaking it and wants their kids to embrace their roots. I want my kids to be proficient in both Spanish and English. We Hispanics are proud of our culture now, but it wasn’t like that years ago.”
Lisa told me she regrets not having taught her daughters Spanish. “ Now we know that children can learn more than one language. I’m moving to Colorado with my husband to be near our daughters and grandchildren. We´ll make sure the little ones learn Spanish.”
There is never an easy path. We try to make the right decisions for those we love. I was brought up in Spain at an English speaking school. At home we spoke a mix of languages from my parent’s different cultures. It was chaotic but we managed to communicate. With all families, we do our best and then hope for the best.
Christina’s radio show, Tu Voz con Christina, is at 8 a.m. every Sunday on Pocono 96.7. Email: Christina@pocono967.com