My husband is Mexican with dark skin and handsome deep brown eyes, and I am Irish/German/French/throw some Dutch in there with red hair and blue eyes. Our daughter is a stunning combination of us both. Her hair is coffee brown, but you can see auburn tints in the sun, her eyes are big, deep, dark brown, with eye lashes for days, and her skin a beautiful olive color that bronzes with the sun and turns rosy pink with the cold. Like many parents, we wondered before she was born what traits she would receive from the two of us, would she look more like Dad or Mom; and almost two years later we often laugh at the confusion we see on some people’s faces when they see her and I together, the redhead with a Hispanic child, speaking Spanish.
Curiosity is a normal human response, and we live in a predominately white town where inter-racial couples are not as common, so I brush off the questions and comments inquiring towards whether or not she is really my daughter and let it all go, no need to take it all too seriously. Yet, I wonder, is it necessary, and how will it affect my daughter as she grows up, or will it? I know we will raise our daughter to be proud of who she is and where she comes from, rather than concerned with what she looks like, but I do worry that people’s curiosities may sprout up some doubt in her, and I never want her to question our relationship as mother and daughter due to something as futile as outward appearances.
Physical appearances aside, my husband and I have a lot in common. We both moved to our hometown where we currently live at the age of eight. We are both bilingual, speaking Spanish and English fluently, although English was my first-language, and Spanish was his. Our upbringing was similar in many ways, and yet, our experiences different. I learned Spanish as a Peace Corps Volunteer in the Dominican Republic and have never been chastised, judged, or ridiculed for not speaking it perfectly. In fact, I have often been complimented on my ability to speak two languages. My husband grew up speaking Spanish in the home, learning English primarily in elementary school. He has experienced and witnessed judgement and ridicule for not speaking English correctly. He and his family have been shunned for speaking Spanish rather than English, although they too know both languages fluently. The praise for being bilingual is held silent. Why? Why do I not have to think twice before speaking Spanish, and yet my husband feels an inner need to speak only English in an effort to prove his assimilation? The answer is maddening and simple; it is because of the way we look. As we raise our daughter bilingual, I want to shelter her from the same sorts of judgments that I cannot relate to, but knowing how impossible that would prove to be, we will instead raise her with the tools and inner strength to rise above them.
I am grateful that thus far the response we have received for speaking Spanish to our child has been wonderfully positive. However, I am also aware that as she grows, that response may change, and as such I have a simple request for those who surround her outside of our home; don’t let it. Encourage her roots, Mexican/German/Irish/French/Dutch, continue to tell her how wonderful Spanish is, and how important it is that she continues to speak it. Know that bilingual does not mean one language is better, it means she speaks both. We are not choosing to speak to her primarily in Spanish because we don’t value English, but because in a small town like ours, if we don’t speak Spanish, she won’t hear it, and English is everywhere we go. She is smart and capable and knowing Spanish will allow her to develop deeper connections with family members, open up her world, increase her competitiveness in the future job market, encourage her brain development, and decrease her susceptibility to Alzheimer’s and dementia, not hinder her English.*
For those who hold them, as my daughter grows, take down the blinders, rid of the assumptions, the judgements, and pre-conceptions, and remember the way you encouraged her to speak Spanish as a young girl, when she is a grown half-Mexican woman. Our daughter will grow up strong in her ancestor’s stories, proud of their journey, sure of who she is, multiracial, multicultural, and bilingual. Her roots will strengthen her, so as you witness her strong and sturdy, question whether your glance, words, or reaction will build her up or attempt to break her down, and chose only the words that nourish.