Putting some “Eh” in “Olé”.


This post is part of the Blogging Carnival on Bilingualism, hosted by Multilingual Mania.  You can check out great posts on the subject here

A multicultural family was not something I planned, nor could I have prepared for the compromise it demands.  And as the minority language parent, compromising is my job.

I never pictured myself feeling like an outsider.   I never imagined that after six years living in Spain, the neighbours would still walk by me without a glance, even the ones I am related to.  Or that my Spanish family still wouldn’t know my name.  Or that I would sadly conclude that real integration is impossible for me here, and seek out a near-by expat community.

But the real shock came when starting a family cemented that isolation.  I am the minority in my own family.  One Canadian fighting for air time with three noisy Spanish men.  Being Spanish, going to Spanish schools, living in our mono-cultural Spanish neighborhood, my boys will never understand my experience as an outsider.   They will know nothing but fitting in.  I have accepted being left out.

By committing to English only with my kids, I underline my foreigner status.  As their only daily dose of English, it’s imparative, but it shuts the door on the incidental social opportunities that could lead to friendships.

My boys will converse with their Dad, friends and neighbours in a language that is still work for me.  I won’t get their subtle jokes or know their slang.  Helping with homework will be interesting.   I won’t talk like, dress like, or smoke like the other Moms waiting at the school gate.  How will they feel about that?

I worry about our communication as they become older.  How will I retain some influence as Mom loses ground to teachers, friends and daily life, all Spanish?  Couples often struggle to find common ground regarding values and communicate with consistency, but when you add a cultural divide, the rift seems downright dangerous.

But honestly, what is it I want them to learn?  Do maple syrup, RCMP and flags matter?   No.  I just want them to know me.  I want them to feel connected to me.  I want a shared experience, deeper than language, that unfortunately, we usually communicate with words.

So now, while they are too young to say “Vaya Mamá dejame en paz” (Leave me alone!) , I impose some Canadian culture.

Go Canucks Go!

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10 comments

  1. GO CANUCKS GO!!! Rio …tell mommy…being in Canada doesn’t make you Canadian…we have it in us 🙂 So hopefully you too can be a Canadian buddy!! Dual citizenship!! ps..thank goodness you won’t be the mommy smoking at the gates lol!!

  2. I can feel a sense of what you are saying just living in a family of boys, in a community that is difficult to “break into” and leaving the roots sent down in the armpit of British Columbia.

  3. I applaud your honesty, Rea. I too have wrestled with the thought of a bicultural family; am I prepared, really fully and totally prepared for the sacrifice of self that is involved? Seriously, am I okay with dying in foreign country? Will I hold the same ground with my Spanish grandchildren as my husband will? Probably not on all accounts.

    However, I do believe that the sacrifice is worth it. Yes, language can be isolating but it can also open up the world tenfold. In giving your babies this gift of you, you are expanding their realm of possibilities.

    Keep it up!!
    k.

    p.s. I’ll be there soon and hope to join your Expat girls club 🙂

    1. LOL!! But the story of the misspelled name in the link above is even funnier! If it can serve as solace, my name is Arianna and my greatgrandfather has always called me “ariana”, the italian translation for the racist adjective “Aryan” used by the nazi to refer to theirselves. He was in the second world war but still has no excuses!

  4. Thank you, once again, for sharing so honestly, and even adding some comedy to your otherwise serious subject. You explain yourself so well–I feel like I have a really good sense of your challenge. I have worried similarly, speaking a minority language to my daughter as well…but it being my non-native language, it’s a bit of a different situation. I applaud your strength, I really do, and agree with k above, in how much it will pay off in the end. I think, at least for me, it’s been REALLY hard to make the sacrifices we do for our kid/s, but that’s what a mother’s love is all about, right? Especially when speaking any other language, for you, just wouldn’t feel right.
    Hang in there…!
    Tamara

  5. This is put so eloquently and beautifully – and of course your lovely sense of humor at the end. Thank you for a wonderful post. One that also helps me feel less alone. I am struggling with a different sort of isolation but one also related to culture and knowing one is not alone out there does bring solace.

  6. love it! i can relate! i’m an american livng in france, although i do speak french fluently. but i loved the phrase that speaking english with your children underlines your foreigner status. i couldn’t agree more and yet for those of us committed to multilingualism, it’s a must even if it can be costly! i’ve learned to relax and let go a lot and have started sometimes speaking to my children in french when with other french speakers, but we also have a pretty good community of english and spanish speakers so my children are trilingual (they are 10, 7 and 4). it’s a constant struggle to find the right balance, but it’s so important to teach children about their roots and language is a major ingredient!

  7. Wow. Despite the comic relief at the end, your candid post makes me feel quite sad! I’ve felt the isolation of being a foreigner in a foreign country, but never imagined what it would be like if that feeling included my family. You have a lot of obstacles to face. It makes your commitment all the more commendable. Language is something so many people simply take for granted. As I read more and more blogs from multi-lingual families, I’m impressed by how consciously we proceed with this endeavor. I just keep thinking what a spectacular gift it is to give our children! Good luck!!
    Kate

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