Being a bilingual Latina is something that I’m proud of. It’s part of my identity. Even my brain works in two languages and at times it’s funny how quickly I switch from one language to another. Other times, it can get quite confusing, because English and Spanish are so different. In the end, it doesn’t matter because I would rather speak and write in two languages with some moments of confusion sprinkled in between, than only be fluent in one. Speaking English and Spanish doesn’t make me less American; I don’t see why I need to choose. I was born in the USA and my parents taught me their native Spanish ever since I was a little girl. Later I grew up in Chile but I was in American school and English was not optional; my parents expected me to master it and continue to be bilingual.
For me, the more languages you speak, the better. Being able to understand and be understood in different countries is a way of building bridges across cultures and allows you to expand your mind. That’s why I have always admired European countries where children learn three, four or five languages without anybody questioning their loyalty to their country.
In my own family we never debated whether we would teach our kids both English and Spanish. Regardless of where we live, my husband and I agree that our children need to be bilingual. It’s not easy because as they get older, children clearly prefer English and we need to remind them daily to speak to us en español so they don’t forget. It gets tiring to make the effort and to nag them to speak to us in Spanish, but it’s worth it. When they complain I simply remind them how great it is to be able to work in two languages like I do and that this way they can communicate with their extended family all over the world. We are fortunate to live in Miami, where being Hispanic or speaking Spanish is actually a plus.
A few days ago a journalist I know and respect, José Díaz Balart, was criticized and even ridiculed by radio host Laura Ingraham for pronouncing a woman’s name -María Cruz Ramírez- correctly. She also blasted him for trying to do a simultaneous translation from Spanish to English. I’m all for constructive criticism but Ingraham’s comments and manner were ridiculous and reminded me of the racism we see every day in this country. She later said she was just teasing. For me, it sounded more like bullying.
Bilingual Americans already spoke out using #IAmBilingual on Twitter. Díaz Balart also responded in this great op-ed. In case you haven’t noticed, he’s breaking new ground by simultaneously anchoring news shows in both English and Spanish, on MSNBC and Telemundo. This is no small feat. What is also great is to see a Hispanic journalist developing his career just like most Latinos do: not only as a separate group due to a common language, but also fully immersed in American life.
Regarding accents, you know what? We all come from somewhere so we all have an accent. Unless you are speaking like a professional broadcaster every single second of your life so nobody can identify your original tone and enunciation, where you were born and where you grew up leave a mark in the way you express yourself. It’s part of our identity and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. Being bilingual is nothing to be ashamed about, even if it means having a stronger accent. As Díaz Balart mentioned, it is a privilege to belong to two cultures and I hope more people realize the beauty there is in diversity, tolerance and respect.