When I asked my husband why we are intentionally raising our daughter in two cultures, he was incredulous. “Because that’s who she is,” he told me. “She Guatemalan and she’s American.”
And I completely agree. I mean, seriously, I think I stirred those words into the Kool-Aid he’s been drinking.
But when I stop and think about it, I recognize that there’s a reality our daughter could slip into American culture virtually unnoticed. She’s a light skinned girl with brown eyes. While my husband speaks to her solely in Spanish, our family conversations are in English. We live in the States.
If we weren’t intentional, she could probably grow up pretty easily as the all-American girl who occasionally says, “Oh yeah. My dad immigrated from Guatemala. My grandparents still live there.” Her friends would probably respond, “Really?”
But that’s not what I hope for her cultural identity, and I have tried to be intentional even in these first two years of her life. It’s been a bit different than I expected, but I think I’m beginning to plant deeper roots of why I started out on this journey with her to begin with.
The very first book I bought when I found out I was pregnant was 7 Steps to Raising a Bilingual Child, and we made a decision to be disciplined in teaching her both languages. I had a momentary freak out about this decision when I realized this choice could produce one of my deepest fears… being left out of a conversation.
But bilingualism was important to us was so that she could have a relationship with her grandparents, cousins, and other family. I knew that if we weren’t intentional about the language, it would probably never “just happen.” And then, she would significantly miss out on relationships with family.
Therefore, my husband became conscious of beginning to speak Spanish in our home. And we sought out bilingual resources. Relationships were the first motivating factor.
It’s a Small World After All
While I was sitting in a Spanish class full of adults, we had to share why we were taking the class. I again heard the story of someone who was being bypassed for promotions (in his case in the medical field) that were being given to bilingual candidates.
The reality is that globalization is in full-swing and the world is getting smaller. One of the best gifts I could give my bicultural daughter is to take full advantage of the opportunity she has to learn two languages and how to navigate different cultural circles.
I appreciate that in her Guatemalan encounters she’s learning how to greet everyone with warmth and personal attention. Independence is a strong American value which we try to nurture in her, and we also hope to infuse it with the more collective-oriented Guatemalan spirit as well. In a church context, my background is Weslyan Holiness tradition, whereas her papa brings more Latino Charismatic influences.
These values and practices will benefit her in life as she interacts with diverse people in her community, the workplace and in church.
We painstakingly brainstormed names that flowed naturally between cultures, finally settling on Gabriella. Even though a nurse at the hospital referred to her as “that baby with the Spanish name,” I think most English and Spanish-speakers are comfortable with it. We wanted to give her a name that spoke to her multicultural identity.
In generations past, the hope of many immigrant families was to blend in, learn English, and be as “American” as possible. Because I have worked with a lot of young adults, I have heard some of the sadness this loss of history and language has carried.
I don’t want my daughter to enter her 20’s lamenting that she doesn’t know Spanish or hearing her father’s immigration story for the very first time. Knowing our roots helps us to know where we “fit” in the world.
Furthermore, understanding the social reality of our ethnicity is important to me. My daughter will be a citizen with the right to vote. That is a privilege that many Guatemalans living in this country do not have. I want her to understand her connection to a broader Latino community and to consider choices in her life in that context.
The Hopeful Journey
Much of our intentionality is simple: choosing Spanish-language cartoons, buying bilingual books, celebrating holidays and hanging up pictures from Latin America. Other areas require more commitment: my husband constantly switching languages so that he is speaking more Spanish in the home, seeking out other multicultural friends for her, finding avenues for celebrating her unique cultures.
There will be aspects of being Guatemalan American that will be challenging for Gabriella: sometimes feeling like she fits in everywhere and nowhere, struggling to gain strong vocabulary to express herself fully in two different languages, having her family and heart in two countries.
Therefore, I want to be intentional about the supreme gift her bicultural identity offers her. I hope for my daughter to be educated about her roots and comfortable in a variety of diverse contexts. I want to help her enjoy the language and cultures of two (or even more) places. And my prayer is that as she witnesses God’s handiwork in multiple communities that she will have a fuller picture of who God is and who she was created to be.
The first time I read this story, I wanted to stand up and clap! I am so inspired by the beautiful family that Sarah and Billy have created. My husband and I don't have kids yet, but we know when we do, we want them to celebrate all the different aspects of their background and heritage. Are you intentionally raising bicultural kids? Can you relate to Sarah's story? Let me know what you think in the comments!
Sarah Quezada is the Operations Director at Mission Year, a year-long volunteer program for young adults. She also writes about multicultural family, life, and ministry at her blog, A Life with Subtitles. She lives in Atlanta, Georgia with her husband Billy and daughter Gabriella. You can find her on Twitter at @SarahQuezada.