I published an article in the On Parenting section of the The Washington Post today. The article, Mother Tongue and My Daughters' Spanglish, discussing raising bilingual children and the mixing of culture and language.
My daughters are humming and making hand motions, singing “Way up in the sky, the little birds fly,” a folk song my husband grew up with, while I get them ready for bed. I don’t know the lyrics well, and I hum as they make bird wings with their hands. My 6-year-old asks, “Mama, did you sing this song when you were a little girl?” I shake my head, thinking of how small moments like this expose the breaches between my childhood and that of my daughters, the gaps between memories and places.
I did not grow up with the same lullabies as my husband, whose first language is English. I moved to the mainland United States from Puerto Rico in early elementary school and worked hard to learn English, an incomprehensibly nonintuitive language to someone whose first language is phonetic. My childhood memories are etched in Spanish, inflected with phrases and colloquialisms difficult to anchor outside of a small Caribbean island. The words of my early childhood drip with sun and warmth, fast waves emanating easily from my lips like the salsa music on my mother’s car radio. While now fluent and nearly devoid of any accent, in English, it flows through my lips distinctly and always more slowly. The pacing is simply different to my ear. My voice is lower in English, more severe. In Spanish, it is higher, nuanced and flowing. I am undoubtedly a different iteration of myself in each language.