A Letter to my Bilingual & Bicultural Daughter

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Exactly three years ago this week I published a letter to my future daughter on the site Spanglishbaby.com. Then NBC Latino picked it up and re-posted it. It’s probably one my favorite pieces that I’ve written. However, since then Spanglish baby has closed down it’s blog and when you click on the article link it takes you a page like this. Thanks to Facebook’s memories this photo popped into my newsfeed today and reminded me that I want these words here on my site and in my heart. So I am re-posting it today. Can’t believe I wrote this to Elena before I had even met her.

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Dear Mija,

When your daddy and I got married we wrote our own vows. Vows are kind of like promises that are deeply personal, but you say in front of family and friends at a wedding. On that day in my white dress and lace veil, holding your dad’s hand, I told him:

I promise to respect your heritage and your culture and one day teach our children about the beauty found in our differences.

We made lots of promises that day and we’re learning what it means to live those out. But by far this is the promise that I sometimes struggle with. And now that you’re coming in a few months I often wonder how I will teach you about your two cultures and the beauty found in our differences.

I know that I will teach you how to make pancakes and ponche. And we will probably have wheat bread and tortillas on the table.

You will learn how to say con permiso before entering someone’s house and muchas gracias before leaving the table. I will probably always call you mija and ask you “que te pasó?” when your eyes fill up with tears because some words just sound better in Spanish.

I will teach you about playing with bubbles, baking chocolate chip cookies and reading bedtime stories. Your daddy will probably let you ride on the back of his motorcycle and show you how to play with fireworks.  I told him he has to at least wait until your 5, but kids in Guatemala get introduced to fireworks before they can walk.

I will teach you how to do puzzles and will probably make flashcards and fun games and sticker charts for you. Your daddy already imagines taking your to soccer games. He’s convinced you will wear a Messi jersey and always root for Barca, just like him.

I will do my best to teach you about George Washington and Justo Rufino Barrios. We will celebrate July 4th and el 15th de Septiembre. You will learn about history from US published textbooks, but also from the people; from Mayan men and women who lived through a horrible civil war that has not made it into many of the textbooks just yet.

I will show you how to dig for sand crabs at the beach and run barefoot through the sprinklers in the grass because those were some of my favorite memories when I was in a little girl in California. Your daddy tells me that he’s going to take you to work with him. He’ll teach you what a hammer is and what size clavos you have to use. And how you can mix cement without a fancy machine. He’ll show you how to work hard and sweat because that’s what his dad showed him.

Our house will be filled with “te amo” and “please” and “¿por qué? Even though your daddy and I are going to try really hard to be consistent, many of our sentences come out in Spanglish. “Mi amor, hand me the pan porfa.” You will know when we’re angry because we usually argue in English, but Spanish is still the language of love.

I’m pretty sure your grandma will teach you how to make apple pie and your abuelita will teach you how to make tamalitos. I don’t know how to make either, but I can teach you how to make the best banana muffins with chocolate chips, of course. Your grandma will take you shopping at Nordstrom and probably buy you the cutest little outfit when we go to visit. Your abuelita will most likely make you a huipil and corte with beautiful hand-woven colors because that’s what Mayan Guatemalan girls wear.

Mija, our hope is that you will feel at home in two worlds and eventually with two languages. We live in a nice house in Guatemala with a computer, washing machine and enough igagdets for a small country. Once and awhile we may go to fancy restaurants with cloth napkins and drinks that have little umbrellas resting on the glass. And we may visit beautiful hotels with big swimming pools and stunning views. Those are fun parts of life and we will enjoy them as a family. But we will also spend time with friends who have a dirt floor and a house made of dried corn stalks. We will sit on plastic bancos around a wooden table and probably eat caldo in the heat of the day. We will drink Pepsi and use the pila to wash our dishes when we’re done.  We will do both because this is where we come from and who we are. And we believe there is beauty in both.

And you, my daughter will be both as well. Not either or. You will not be half-estadounidense and half-Guatemalan. And I don’t believe you will feel like a gringa living in Guatemala. No, you’ll be one-hundred percent, YOU.

As you grow and ask questions and develop your own identity, my hope is that you too will come to see the beauty in our differences.

And mija, may you come to know that you are a reflection of them both.

I can’t wait to meet you.

Love,

Mama

{Mija is a Spanish word that literally means “my daughter.” It’s actually written “mi hija.” But when said quickly together it sounds like “mija” and it is said with endearment, kind of like “sweetie” or “sweetheart” in English. Female teachers often use it with little girl students. Mijo being the equivalent for little boys.” It happens to be one of my favorite Spanish words.”

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This post originally appeared on the site Spanglish Baby in April 2013. You can find more great resources about bilingual parenting on their Facebook page.

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One thought on “A Letter to my Bilingual & Bicultural Daughter

  1. I totally love this. Spanish is my favorite second language I think because I’ve been able to use it most often in the US.
    Love the idealist not half and half but fully you. Wonderful Spanish words and references to American sports, too with our love of Futbol, some of us. Thank you.

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