Graduation Speech : My Family

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Once again my 17-year-old daughter comes home from a foreign-language fair at her high school and accusingly tells me about the pluses of being able to speak two languages. Speaker after speaker has extolled the virtues of becoming fluent in another language. My daughter is frustrated by the fact that I’m bilingual and have purposely declined to teach her to speak Spanish, my native tongue. She is not the only one who has wondered why my children don’t speak Spanish. Over the years friends, acquaintances and family have asked me the same question. Teachers have asked my children. My family, of course, has been more judgmental. I was born in Lima, Peru, and came to the United States for the first time in the early ‘50s, when I was 6 years old. At the parochial school my sister and I attended in Hollywood, Calif., there were only three Hispanic families at the time. I don’t know when or how I learned English. I guess it was a matter of survival. My teacher spoke no Spanish. Neither did my classmates. All I can say is that at some point I no longer needed to translate. When I spoke in English I thought in English and when I spoke in Spanish I thought in Spanish. I also learned about peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches, Halloween and Girl Scouts. We went to a high school in Burbank. Again, there were few Hispanic students at the time. My sister and I spoke English without an “accent.” This pleased my father no end. He would beam with pleasure when teachers, meeting him and my mother for the first time and hearing their labored English, would comment that they had no idea English was not our native tongue. My brother was born in Los Angeles in 1959, and we would speak both English and Spanish to him. When he began to talk, he would poin... ... middle of paper ... I recently read an article in a national magazine about the Ozarks where some of the townspeople are concerned about the numbers of Hispanics who have come to work in poultry plants there. It seemed to me that their “concerns” were actually prejudice. There is a definite creeping in of anti-Hispanic sentiment in this country. Even my daughter, yes, the one who is upset over not being bilingual, admits to hearing “Hispanic jokes” said in front of her at school. You see, many don’t realize, despite her looks, that she’s a minority. I want to believe that her flawless English is a contributing factor. Last summer I took my 10-year-old daughter to visit my brother, who is working in Mexico City. She picked up a few phrases and words with the facility that only the very young can. I just might teach her Spanish. You see, she is fair with light brown hair and blue eyes.

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