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Dispelling the myth that latino parents do not speak English

By: Iris Altamirano

Earlier this year, two separate incidents remind me that it is important to dispel the myth that latino parents do not speak English.  Equally as important is that we urged us all  to be aware of the complexity of identity, especially when one does not fit neatly into one box or another.  Know how damaging it might be to impose your sense of someone else’s “self” onto them, especially in marginalized communities.

January 2016:  

The first words Sofia and I heard on her first day of three school were:  “I don’t speak your language.”  

My little lady was so excited to start school in January 2016. It was her motivation to potty train successfully before her 3rd birthday.    

She chose her favorite panda long sleeve with a little pink heart for a nose and I made her, her braids. She was so ready. I on the other hand was not ready for her to be out in the world for first time without me.

We didn’t even get a chance to stomp the snow out of our boots when I hear a small little voice utter the words: “I don’t speak your language.”  

Caught a little off guard and then go into protection mode, I put my body between him and my baby girl. I squat down to her, ignoring the little guy.  I proceed to give her some first day tips: “Please listen to instruction. Ask for help if you need to go potty.”

Then, again it comes, only this time, his little voice pierces between my and Sofia’s close proximity:  “I don’t speak your language.”

I couldn’t. This time I respond:  “Darlin’ we are all speaking English. You are speaking English. I am speaking English. Sofia, here, is speaking English. We are all speaking English! Can you go? Please. Just go.”

I wish that I would have said:  “You are right. No hablas mi idoma, pero nosotros hablamos la tuya.  

We have the ability to speak twice. We do not only speak English. We do not only speak Spanish. We speak both. We have the ability to speak twice.”

March 2016: We are at a Kindergarten Open House “shopping” around for a classroom.

While expressing to a veteran teacher our interest in maintaining Spanish, I paused and opened a small window to allow for her to share her definition of the Program as “the Hispanic class,” forcing me then to respond, “you mean the bilingual program.”

We then went into her classroom where I offered a bit more of the “shopping” experience with her and (possibly mistakenly) that if it were only up to me I would have my son in the Bilingual class, but my husband had concerns about our son falling behind in English, thus were looking into all of our options.  

The veteran teacher then told me that I “should have brought him (my husband) so that [she] could convince him” that “the Hispanic class” was a better fit.

My response was: “Well, he has to work to be able to feed us and so I am here.”

I came home expressing to my son’s father that we basically are not welcomed in the English class because we are “Hispanic.”

I hope to teach my children to question language. Not like the little guy at Sofia’s three school, or this veteran teacher, but with care for making our world a better place. Language and the ability to communicate is important. I hope to teach my children to hone in on the ability to communicate in multiple languages and to differentiate between them.

Posted in: Our Stories

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