I grew up the product of Spanish speaking parents. My mom and dad were in their 20’s when they arrived in this country from Spain after leaving Cuba as exiles. They arrived in the late 60’s and early 70’s. They arrived at a time when NO ONE and I mean NO ONE spoke Spanish in this country. They had the added hurdle of having to get to work immediately. Learning English was not high on their list of priorities. Working and making money so they could eat and keep a roof over their heads was. Eventually they started learning and getting accustomed to the language, but it was still very difficult for them, and what they did learn was broken and heavily accented. Learning a second language as an adult is difficult, learning a second language while simultaneously trying to make a new life is nearly impossible. But they did it. To say that they have my admiration and respect is an understatement.
Since English was their second language, they spoke Spanish at home. That meant I spoke Spanish at home. In fact Spanish was my first language, I didn’t learn to speak English until I started school when I was approximately three. Growing up I didn’t realize how lucky I was and how unique I was to speak one language at home and one language at school. This was because where I lived I was only ever around people just like me, meaning kids who’s parents, like mine, had learned to speak English late in life. I didn’t realize until I was in high school that not everyone spoke two languages, one at home one at school.
At home, growing up I heard, “we only speak Spanish in this house” a lot. My parents had a twofold reason for this. First and foremost they wanted me to learn to speak Spanish, really learn, the language. They wanted me as comfortable speaking Spanish as I was speaking English. Also, they were proud of where they came from and they wanted me to be proud too. Secondly, they were more comfortable speaking Spanish.
My parents were so insistent on me learning Spanish they enrolled me in lessons after school. On Fridays. Yup, you read it right, more school after a full week of school. The classes were held at a local Spanish social center which offered classes for children of Spanish speakers. When you are 9 and have spent an entire week in school the last thing you want to do on a Friday night is take more classes. I would bitch and moan about going, my mom turned a deaf ear every time. The one constant was them telling me, “you’ll thank us when you’re older”. Because I was a massive brat and not getting my way I would roll my eyes and grumble under my breath – pouted too – and I would go. Mostly because I didn’t have a choice because my mom drove me and waited while I was in class. I remember thinking that she was wrong that she didn’t know what she was talking about. Turns out I was the one that was wrong.
When I went out into the world, I very quickly learned that while there are a lot of people that speak Spanish, there are not a lot of people that speak it properly. That’s what my mom was trying to instill in me. Speaking a second language and speaking it well, is an advantage.
My life has taken many turns in the last few months. I just got my real estate license and I live in Western North Carolina. As realtor you are always looking for any advantage and any way to distinguish yourself from the crowd. In my area I’m one of three brokers that speaks Spanish, and just like that I have managed to distinguish myself with out even trying.
As a kid I didn’t understand how much being bilingual would affect my life. As an adult I’m infinitely grateful to my parents for making me take those lessons. At the time they knew something I didn’t, being bilingual and being well spoken in both languages would be an advantage throughout my life.
So thank you mom and dad for noting better than me what I needed.
Gracias Maye y Pache por saber mejor que yo lo que yo necesitaba.