Multicultural Mamas: Jessica

Jessica and I met in the hospital with our one week old newborns in our arms. In that sleep deprived memory, I think she heard us speaking Spanish and it prompted conversation (because it’s THAT RARE in our area!) We remet when our family started attending our current church and Jessica (y su familia) quickly become dear friends, as we now share cenas together regularly as part of a Spanish speaking small group. It’s an honor to have her share her story here and I pray that it’s an encouragement to all who seek to raise their families to celebrate multiple cultures.

Ventura Family

I snuggled in bed with my son Austin on his third birthday and opened “Un Dia de Nieve.” Una mañana de invierno Peter se despertó y miró por la ventana. Había caído nieve durante la noche. Todo estaba cubierto hasta donde le alcanzaba la vista, the story began.

I had been thrilled to find the Spanish-language edition of Ezra Jack Keat’s award-winning “The Snowy Day” at our local used bookstore months ago. It wasn’t until this winter after Austin had heard stories about Christmas and snow, and had actually experienced his first snowfall of the season, that he took interest in the simple story of a young boy experiencing the joys of a fresh snowfall. I laughed to myself when I realized that in this one story Austin’s worlds came together. Austin’s dad is from Honduras, where Spanish is spoken but no snow falls and where parents don’t typically read bedtime stories to their children; I am from southern California and grew up surrounded by books, including “The Snowy Day”; and Austin and his little brother Caleb are growing up in snowy New England.

This fall someone described our family as being composed of a Hispanic father, a White mother, and two Hispanic boys. Really? Hispanic boys? What about their White mother? My immediate response was indignation that my ethnicity had disappeared from the equation. But the reality is that I don’t know if our children will grow up to be either White or Hispanic, or even gringacho (a mix of gringo and catracho). They are part of a generation who will have a difficult time checking any box in particular when asked their ethnicity. These days, one is better off identifying with the neighborhoods we grew up in rather than our race. This comment is not to mean my husband and I don’t take pride in where we come from or that we don’t try to instill that same pride in our children. We do. But during the third year of our son’s life, it has already become apparent that Austin will be just as influenced by our community as he is by the environment we create at home.

In reality, the environment we create at home is just as influenced by our community as it is by my husband and I. Take food as an example. When we first got married, Rafael called up his sister whenever he missed una comida típica. The two of us would follow her instructions to make the dish, so that the next time I would be able to make it on my own. Living in Texas, it was not difficult to find most of the Central American ingredients (although the cheeses and creams I found were often more Mexican than Honduran). Where we now live north of Boston, I have had to become more creative with ingredients. After two cities and eight years of evolution in my kitchen, every dish Dilcia has taught me has now taken on a North American flair – higher fiber, lower fat, different spices, parmesan cheese in place of queso fresco, etc..

Language, el idioma, is another example. Before Austin was born, we learned from parents who followed the “One Parent One Language” model for bilingual families that it was a struggle to get their children to speak anything but English once they started going to school. So my husband and I decided that we would both speak Spanish with our children. It was even easier when Rafael’s niece came from Honduras to live with us for three months at a time, once when Austin had turned a year old and once when he was two and a half years. But at three years old, Austin is starting to replace single words with sentences in English when he speaks to us. Rather than “Agua,” he tells me, “I want water.” He corrects me, “Not gradas, stairs.” It doesn’t help that with the arrival of Austin’s little brother (and with him, a loss of energy), I respond to my husband in English more and more. While I do not want to discourage my son’s current language development, I try to bolster the Spanish influences. The children’s room at our local library only has two Spanish titles for his age group, so I comb through the foreign languages box at the used bookstore for treasures like “Un Dia de Nieve.” I set the Netflix and Verizon settings to the Spanish language, so any cartoon that is dubbed in Spanish will automatically play on that setting (although most of his favorite shows are only in English). When his grandma wanted to buy him a kids tablet for Austin’s birthday, I made sure to get one with access to Spanish language learning games.

And then there is futbol. Rafael grew up playing the sport anytime he could get out of the house to the closest patch of green where the neighborhood boys were playing. He got into trouble so often for ruining his shoes that he would slip them off and play barefoot. Although I also spent hours outdoors with the neighborhood kids, I didn’t play soccer until my mom enrolled my siblings and I in recreational soccer. Since I never excelled athletically, I left organized sports behind once I reached eighth grade. Our sons only have the luxury of neighborhood free play half the year, when there is enough light and warmth after school hours for the neighborhood kids to be out on the sidewalk. Like it was for me, it will be difficult for them to find kids to play soccer with outside organized leagues. But since Rafael plays indoor soccer one or two times a week, the boys have the opportunity to join him on the sidelines. Already, Caleb often stays home with mom while Austin joins dad at his pickup games.

Regardless of these little struggles of bringing up our sons the way we’d hope to, the community our family has found since moving to Boston’s North Shore is one I am truly happy to raise my kids in. Although the majority of the families in our neighborhood could be described as White, they applaud our efforts to raise Austin and Caleb bilingual. And most of the families we spend time with are of foreign or mixed heritage: North, Central, and South American, Asian, African, Australian, and European. Since neither my family nor my husband’s live by, our close friends have become our family. We have made friends who model to our boys the highest two commandments in the Bible: loving God and loving their neighbor. The children do speak English together and the food we share does not promote any particular ethnic flavor; with these families in our lives, I am proud to watch our sons are grow up White, Hispanic, and a whole mix of other ethnicities.

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