Trilingual Parrot, Monolingual Son
By Jennifer Vides
I recently spent a few days at my parents’ home, where I was warmly greeted by my mom – a full-fledged white girl raised in Texas – and my dad, who was born and raised in El Salvador.
Their Amazon Yellow-Nape parrot – AKA “The Green Chicken” – was not as enthusiastic about my arrival (yes, I teased him when I was a child. Don’t judge). He’s been in my family since we acquired him in El Salvador in 1973, so yes that makes him around 37, and older than my brother, I should point out.
The Green Chicken literally grew up with us. He traveled with us from El Salvador to Puerto Rico to Costa Rica and to Miami. He continued on to Brazil, then Canada, back to Miami and finally to Houston.
As a result, he is trilingual: He speaks English, Spanish and Portuguese. And with every word he uttered during my visit, it was like he was taunting me with his language skills.
My kid only speaks English.
This is a sore point for me. My older sister and I speak Spanish and English fluently and French badly. My younger brother and sister add Portuguese to the list since they also lived in Brazil. (I need to say my younger sister also speaks German and French, or she’ll get mad at me.)
I suppose I could cut myself a break and say that hey, my sibs and I learned Spanish because we grew up in Latin America, so we didn’t have a choice. And I could say that my kid only has occasion to use his Spanish when he’s speaking to me. Yeah I could say that but it would be a total cop-out. I mean: I live in L.A.
The truth is: my sibs and I had a choice. Well, my parents did. They chose to put us in bilingual schools. And I don’t mean the schools where the U.S. Embassy kids go when they are in Latin America, where Spanish is taught one period a day in much the same way it’s taught in U.S. public schools.
No, my parents sent us to schools where the population was mostly not American. We HAD to speak Spanish. At home, we were more-than-encouraged to learn Spanish. And with every move, we learned a new kind of Spanish, since in every Latin American country the Spanish is different.
I swore I’d be the same way; that no matter what, my son would learn Spanish. I mean, think of the advantages, right?
Turns out? It’s not that easy. I married an American of Polish & Irish descent who wholeheartedly supported and encouraged my desire to teach our son Spanish. But the kid refuses – mostly because it was, by necessity, an English-speaking household. He’ll learn words I push on him. But fundamentally he isn’t interested in learning.
So here I sit, sick with the realization that The Green Chicken could be stealing my kid’s jobs of the future. (I kid, I kid.)
But in all seriousness, I’m re-motivated to make sure my kid speaks Spanish.
I’m not letting that Green Chicken show up my kid.
Jennifer Vides is a PR practitioner, writer, blogger, tweeter, and mom to the funniest kid on Earth. The daughter of a Salvadoran father and Texan mother, Jennifer was raised in El Salvador, Puerto Rico, Costa Rica and Miami, and has worked in Miami, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles. These experiences have made her a culturally-confused Latina who can’t roll her Rs but who speaks Salvadoran, Puertorican, Costarican, Cuban, Mexican and..well you get the drill.
This essay is reposted from her blog Mami, Deconstructed.