Conflicts & Blessings Between Borders

Conflicts & Blessings Between Borders

Being the parent of a bilingual child isn’t always easy…especially when you’re not fluent. I’ve been teaching my daughter Spanish since birth…a few words here and there, never speaking in full conversations because I have absolutely no idea what a fluent Spanish speaking mother would say to her child.  

I wish I was that lucky!  I hear little kids running around at church, parents praising and scolding and I happily do my best to absorb it all.

I remember my husband was teaching these little kinders when we lived in Michigan.  They were so adorable and so feisty.  He used to tell me stories and we would laugh about all the cute, but outlandish things they would say and were always amazed by how smart such little ones can be.  

I was in awe of the bilingual kids especially, because they could shift back and forth effortlessly to Spanish with their friends, then English with their teachers. Of course, they had no idea…for them it was normal, but to me it was both miraculous and endearing.

I suppose that being the mother of a bicultural child, raised entre dos fronteras, causes you to see all other bicultural and bilingual children as being yours to some degree.  I can’t help but feel a slight tug on my heart strings, especially for a child who’s mother lengua es español.  

I see my daughter in every child and especially in the eyes of those who look and sound like her. I think that all mothers function this way to some degree.  If a child is in danger or needs help, we rush in without even a second thought.  We mothers are like Superwoman.  You gotta give us that…we’re most definitely amazing!

I guess that’s why raising a child bilingual can be so difficult at times.  While it is an amazing gift for our children, we can sometimes be left feeling inadequate about our lack of language skills…knowing that we don’t quite measure up can sometimes become a source of disappointment.

Some would criticize or say that mothers who aren’t fluent shouldn’t even bother, but of course I have to disagree.  I always disagree when people say such ridiculous things.  Moms, while you may not be fluent…your child still can be! Ok, perhaps my daughter is not fluent yet, but hope is not lost.  I just take it one step at a time.

Right now, my daughter’s favorite Spanish words are papi and papa.  =)  Papi translates to daddy, while papa means potato.  Yeah…that’s funny isn’t it?  These are two words that she says every day and while it may be very little to some, it means the world to me and my husband.  

I can’t tell you how overjoyed my husband is just having our daughter run to him after he returns home from work screeching “Papi, papi!!!”  It’s simply heartwarming.  On the other hand, papas in our house translates to traditional potatoes while papitas is of course, reserved for fries and potato chips.  

My daughter acknowledges many other Spanish words, but because her father and I are not fluent, we always return to our dominant language, English.

That brings me to another point.  My husband, who considers himself both Mexican and Tejano (Texan), grew up in a home where Spanish was forbidden.

Yeah, sad but true and it’s not that uncommon in many bicultural American families.  We all tend to assimilate to some degree, in order to fit in with a society that is not often accepting of those who are different.

Regardless, my point is that my husband has felt all these years as if a piece of his heart has been missing.  He never got to hold a full Spanish conversation with his abuelo before he passed on, was forced out of conversations by more fluent speakers and (the biggest heartache of all) I know he feels somewhat defeated by the fact that he is unable to lead his own familia in Spanish.  

Perhaps he thinks that he is no better than his father, who forbade Spanish.  Maybe some individuals would blame him for not finding a way to learn the language by now, but for me…I see a very passionate man who’s yearning to find himself and who sees Spanish language as being a very big part of his own personal identity.

A man who has lived between two borders, been slapped by both and yet, still manages to love them both simultaneously.

I marvel at all biculturals and bilinguals struggling to find their place…it’s not easy.  I can only wonder what will happen in our future.  Will my daughter eventually find her way to fluency?  Will we?  If not, will she be accepted?  How will she be received when she does finally become fluent?  

Yeah, I could pretty much worry about all these things until I wear myself ragged.  There are so many haters out there…even family and friends can be harsh and unkind.  

But, I think that what it all boils down to is that family is there for you no matter what, supporting you, unconditionally loving you, nurturing you.  

I think I’ll keep on with my few words of Spanish, however small it may seem…and pray for a fluent future and a confident daughter who can turn her head at all the controversy and just be herself.

Con todo mi corazón,

Chantilly ♥

Facebook Comments


  • J Olivarez-Mazone
    June 3, 2011 at 8:10 pm

    There is a whole other concept to the not wanting the children to speak Spanish in the house. My mother grew up in the 60's and 70's and she was spanked in school for speaking Spanish. Every day she was spanked even though Spanish was her first language. There was no ELL or bilingual classes. It was sink or swim for them. My mother vowed that we would not suffer the same way she suffered so she forbade us to speak Spanish to give us a head start on our education. I learned post HS graduation and my brother is learnng for his job.

    • Chantilly Pati&ntild
      June 4, 2011 at 1:26 am

      Yeah, I think that's a big part of what was going on with my father-in-law…and there was some abuse involved too, from this parents that made Spanish undesirable for him.  I know what you mean about the school situation though, my husband has told me horror stories even from when he was a kid and I've read a lot of books that talk about those topics…like those by Villaseñor.  It's pretty insane all the stuff that happened during the time period that you're talking about.

      Even though my MIL is fluent in Spanish (she grew up in Laredo), having their father forbid Spanish left the kids unable to communicate in Spanish.  My husband and his sister both had to learn Spanish in High School and college.  My cuñada did study abroad trips, but my hubby still has trouble finding fluency…he never got the opportunity to go abroad because his Dyslexia held him back in college.  We're planning a family trip soon to go abroad and find fluency.

  • J.
    October 28, 2013 at 10:08 pm

    I understand the desire to be fluent in Spanish, but I feel that you are all letting this eat you up. I personally do not think one’s language skills determine whether or not they are of a certain heritage. I skimmed through your blogs and your and your husband seem to embrace the best of both worlds if you look at the bigger picture. You may not be fluent in Spanish, but does that determine your pride for the overall ethnicity and prevent your daughter from learning the culure? It’s a pretty minor thing IMO, but a good plus to have if you can be fluent and there are many opportunities for you all. But it’s not a be all/end all thing. I don’t understand why many, especially Hispanics who think it’s the end of the world that they can’t speak fluent Spanish. Truth be told no one is considered less just b/c they are not perfect in something. It’s not a perfect world. Anyway, since you both like to be fluent..I recommend help you tons! :)

    Btw,I am bicultural. Not Hispanic, but I do know conversational Spanish (not fluent at all, but hey there’s no bad in it). I love it and find benefits compared to being monocultural. One big one is it opens you up since your horizons are broadened and you learn to respect ppl of all cultures. That’s the beauty of it :)

    • Chantilly Patiño
      Chantilly Patiño
      October 30, 2013 at 5:48 pm

      Thanks for your comment J. I definitely agree with you…culture is what is the most important. But at the same time, there is a lot of identity in our culture that is associated with the language, much like with dance or food are in many cultures.

      It would be hard to feel wholly Mexican without being able to have tamales, menudo or mole once in a while. It would be hard to feel Tejano without having the opportunity to go to the Norteño dances of your youth, etc. I think once you’ve had it, your life feels a little empty without it. Since moving to where we are now in South Dakota, that’s kind of what it feels like. We miss hearing the language, eating the foods, dancing the dances, etc. It’s like losing a piece of yourself.

      When we were in Michigan it didn’t sting so bad because we could communicate in Spanish with family and friends whenever we wanted…even if not fluently. Here, we just feel isolated and less culturally “fed”.

      Not sure how else to describe it, but I’m sure you know what I mean. Having the language makes you feel whole.

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