Many Americans have long believed bilingualism is ‘a good thing’ if it was acquired via travel (preferably to Paris) or via formal education (preferably at Harvard) but that it is a ‘bad thing’ if it was acquired from one’s immigrant parents or grandparents.
How we teach our children about their remarkable Latino culture in the homeschool
One question Latina homeschool moms get a lot is on the topic of how to best enrich children about their Latino heritage.
When I visited Mexico decades ago while in college, I listened carefully to the stories of my relatives.
I chronicled everything I could as best as I knew how, knowing that not everything was consequential to my writing—the food poisoning I experienced, the routine bus rides I took from one colonia to another for work, the tedious process to set up camera equipment to film a documentary.
But not everything is meant to be used as material for the plot of a story. Although anecdotes may prove useful, my burden continues to see how these lives should be contextualized, how their significance impacts my life.
I’m offered anecdotes about life in another country, the scope of circumstances that brought these storytellers out of their birth country and into another one for reasons only they can understand. I don’t own their stories, despite my self-imposed expectation to steward over them.
Now, as I raise a family, I want to pass down that certain sensibility to my children. Here are a few things I actively do to teach, share, and pass on my heritage to my children.
- We take trips to Tecate: We have so many relatives across the border and since we live in Los Angeles, it facilitates a trip to spend a night or two al otro lado. Being out of the country, is a valuable lesson that no textbook could instruct.
- We speak Spanish: In the homeschool, I pick up books in Spanish from the library to read aloud to my daughter. She is curious and inquisitive about all she is learning, and reading to her in Spanish gives her the added boost she needs daily that her older brothers didn’t quite need.
- We cook and eat Mexican food regularly. It helps a great deal to live in a suburb where 42% of its residents are Latino or Hispanic. That statistic begets businesses that cater to what Latinos have an affinity for. There’s a supermarket across town where we buy our freshly made carnitas, along with rich salsa, chicharron, and raw meats for tacos al pastor. The pan dulce there is a hit as well, and the bolillos are baked all day long. My children know this store well, and they like what it serves and are versed in what we bring from there to cook at home.
- We encourage them to spend time with extended family. It’s no surprise that as the children get older, their capacities to help with bigger projects become more demanding. My mother who regularly needs help with her yard or DIY projects enlists the handy work of my sons. Not only are they helpers, but are good company to their Abuelito who is newly widowed and lives far away. They spend weeks with him during vacation to nurture the bond between generations of family. We also visited an old auntie of ours who is a shut-in and is always happy to see us.
- I became a Spanish teacher for the homeschool co-op. I never thought I would be teaching Spanish, but the homeschool allows for talents to never go unchecked. The high school students are one of the best I’ve had in the classroom (I taught writing in higher ed years ago). Teaching Spanish to my son in this setting formalizes what he already knows from home, and it allows him to become more fluent in our native tongue.
- We watch old television shows. If you’ve heard of Chespirito and Chavo del ocho, you know they are all time classics. I grew up with those shows in the 80’s and was pleasantly surprised to see my children give them a try. It is fun to relive those old days with them, and more importantly, to see them understand and capture the humor in Spanish that has now become quite dull to me as an adult.
- We listen to music. Learning a song in Spanish is included in the homeschool. I have the Cri-Cri CD that I had on record in the 70’s. And when my eldest son was a toddler, we attended the Festival of Books at UCLA and heard Jose-Luis Orozco live. We went home with his CD, De Colores, and all my three children have listened to it through the years since.
- We identify distinctions between what is culturally relevant and what stereotypes or caricatures our culture. So much of Hollywood over-exaggerates its depiction of Latinos that it is essentially unreliable. We don’t want our children to get their information about Latino life from a Hollywood movie that doesn’t take into consideration the many facets of our heritage. The monolithic trope of Latino culture as seen in commercial films or other creative mediums makes it easy for us to rely on our own lives as realism for our children.
My family goes out of their way to correct my children’s Spanish, to nurture the appreciation of our family’s stories, and to explain why some things we see about people like us are not always what they seem in reality.
We share historical anecdotes about Los Angeles and Latino culture (listening to choice episodes of the Latino USA podcast has been a tremendous help). This is the best way we know how to enrich our children about their Latino heritage. The tios and tias, the abuelos and abuelas tell their own stories.
And my children listen. And there, they are present.