It was a peculiar feeling of bipolarity. During the day I had been consumed with worry about the fact that despite my best intentions, my children are not growing up to be seamlessly fluent in two languages. I figured it was going to be challenging, since their father is monolingual, but that day I was feeling particularly discouraged by my linguistic failure. Since my children are half Latino, their ability to speak Spanish is important to me, not only because of the benefits of having a bilingual mind, but also because I want the language to be a strong tie that binds them to their Latino heritage. I was fretting about the “degree of Latinoness” in my family.
Then I went to a staff meeting. A colleague mentioned to me that a client had referred to me as “that foreign doctor…the Indian one.” I was surprised at my reaction. I started taking inventory of qualities that highlighted my foreignness, somehow forgetting that I am brown, the only factor that some people need to brand me foreign. But I am from the U.S., I insisted to myself; promptly forgetting that just hours before, I had been concerned that my home was not “brown enough.”
My children do not eat the Guatemalan food of my childhood. They have to be cajoled to speak Spanish. Am I to expect that by the coming of age of the third generation of my U.S. family, the assimilation level will be such that my children and possible grandchildren will not feel particularly Latino? Is loss of brown important? Is it inevitable? My children are the fork in the road. Without the benefit of immigrant parents to reinforce culture, children in the third generation would appear to be the bridge into a more mainstream “American” existence. There are, of course, some families who seek out acculturation. I know of immigrant families that refuse to teach their children Spanish so that they might fit in with the dominant culture more quickly.
Inherently, this latter approach seems short-sighted. Why deny a child the benefit of being bilingual? Why the rush to lose the “Latino”? Perhaps my concern lies with the dilution factor. What happens after several generations of acculturation, when, hopefully, socioeconomic stability is reached within a family? Is part of the definition of being Latino feeling a common sense of purpose of struggle? Or does chronological, spatial and cultural distance between the individual and her/his roots in the “homeland” cause a lack of affinity for this diverse group that defines itself as Latino. Add to that the many incidents of intermarriage into other groups and the concern becomes watching our beautiful human stream of cafe con leche disappear into the “melting pot,” the bland one that Nancy Sepulveda referenced earlier this year.
In the meantime, I continue to expect proficiency in Spanish from my children. My DNA contribution to the next generation will be as brown as I can make it, for as long as I can make it so.