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Setting the bar low at bilingualism

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Who knew bilingualism was a good thing?

“Having command of Spanish and English means, for Latino women, a competitive advantage, several outstanding Hispanic figures from the political, activism and business spheres said Monday.

‘Being bilingual is an incredible opportunity. I have two children and I’m concerned for both to speak Spanish as well as English, because that’s going to help them in their professional careers just like it helped me,’ Lidia Soto-Harmon, CEO of the Girl Scout Council of the Nation’s Capital, told Efe.

The majority of female Latino leaders participating in the 25th anniversary of the National Hispana Leadership Institute in Washington agreed.

‘There are occasions on which speaking Spanish has negative connotations and that makes the second generations want to distance themselves from the language of their parents,’ said Soto-Harmon, something that has to be ‘avoided at all costs,’ since it would mean ‘that the doors to infinite opportunities would close on them.’ “

I’m an avid reader of Fox News Latino, but this is one of those duh articles stating the obvious.

Sure, I’ve come out against a “learn English” requirement policy for new Americans, but I never said learning English was a bad idea. Bilingualism is always preferred over monolingualism. Heck, why stop there? You should be able to read, write and speak in three or four languages, like the Europeans do. Learn as many languages as you can. It can only help you in your education and your career.

(I can already see some of BL’s more conservative readers saying, “You want us to be more like the Europeans?!” Yes. Yes I do.)

Soto-Harmon brings up an excellent point when she talks about kids wanting to avoid using Spanish “at all costs” for fear of coming across to… immigrant-y. I’ve seen it.

My wife’s 8-year-old daughter was perusing her mother’s iPod when she quipped, “Mom, you’re so Mexican.” Whenever we tell her to clean her room or get ready for bed — in Spanish, of course, because commands always sound better in Spanish — the escuincla invariably says, “I don’t know what you’re saying, so whatever.”

Last night we made arroz con gandules, frijoles and flautas — that’s what you get when a Puerto Rican marries a Mexican. The little booger says, “This is good!” When we ask her if she means the flautas are good, she picks up a flauta and says, “No, this.”

You get the sad picture.

We have to teach our kids Spanish. And this isn’t some call for cultural preservation. I’m no purist. But Latino kids should know Spanish, just like they should be able to cook traditional meals. It’s called heritage, passing down to our children what we’ve learned from our parents, ensuring that the next generation will have more tools for success than we had.

For career purposes, Latino kids should know English and Spanish (and Mandarin, most likely). They should know French and Arabic and Japanese. They should learn as many languages as they can, because they have nothing better to do — unless learning a new language cuts into TV time.

I say teach your kid one more language than you yourself know, so that they’re that much better than you are.

That’s the whole point of having kids, isn’t it?

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007,, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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