Where do I begin…
It has been nearly two weeks since Carlos and I have returned from our adventures in Los Angeles and my internal clock has finally adjusted to the local time! In a space of four weeks we explored parks, visited museums, rode trains, caught up with friends, reunited with family, ate and drank the local fare (including Colombian food!) and even managed to catch up on some much needed sleep.
There were many highlights but the overarching influence of Spanish language and Hispanic culture of LA made even the simplest everyday outings so very enjoyable. One of the first places I wanted to visit was the public library. My sister lives in a part of town that has a strong Latin American influence so the one we went to was called “Los Feliz” which translates to “happy” in English. And like a proverbial kid in a candy shop I was ecstatic to see shelves and shelves of children’s books in Spanish! After a few hours over several visits I checked out 22 books and set out to evaluate them with the help of Carlos to see which ones had the highest kid appeal and best translation. We had a blast and in the process uncovered a few real gems.
The local playground was also a very intriguing place to go and provided many interesting conversations with other mums, caregivers and their children. It was very common to see nannies caring for children (that didn’t look Hispanic) all the while, speaking to them in Spanish the whole time. I had to chuckle when a woman approached me after hearing me speak to Carlos in Spanish and asked how long I had been caring for him. She was from Guatemala and introduced me to an eight year old girl who she had been caring for over five years who was fluent in German (from her parents), English and Spanish. Right from the start, the girl’s parents had asked her to speak to their daughter exclusively in Spanish. This strategy is often talked about in most of the books about raising bilingual children; it was so neat to meet people who are actually doing it!
It was also very interesting to see Carlos interact with other bilingual children. I would often help break the ice using Spanish and you could see them sizing up the situation as they decided which language to use. In one situation a little girl heard me say to Carlos “Juegas pelota con la nina?” (Are you playing ball with the little girl?). She later came to me and asked me in Spanish if I would push her on the swing. It is so amazing to see such social flexibility at such a young age!
As a side trip to visit a friend, Carlos and I took a fabulous coastal train ride to a place a called Paso Robles which translates into “walk of the oak trees.” The five hour journey was so much fun as children have a magical way of bringing people together. There was a little boy about Carlos’ age sitting with his family in the seats across the aisle from us. You could hear the adults speaking English and Spanish at various times and they were encouraging the boy to use Spanish even though it was clearly a minority language for him. Before too long Carlos was sharing his markers with him and one of the women in their group came over to chat with me. She was his maternal grandmother and was travelling with her son in law and his sister who were both Mexican (both perfectly fluent in English too). The boy’s cousins were a bit older and fluent in both languages mainly because their mother was the native speaker. The maternal grandmother’s side of the family was American but they were keen for the children to know Spanish for the cultural and heritage connections. The Mexican sister explained to me how her grandmother only spoke Spanish, because she was her family’s first generation of immigrants to the U.S. Growing up, she remembers how out of respect only Spanish was spoken when they set foot in her house for a visit. How fascinating!
The last aspect which had a profound influence on our trip was the prolific use of technology in a super-urban environment like that of LA. My sister wouldn’t drive anywhere without first consulting her Blackberry for motorway traffic conditions. If we were going somewhere new she would quickly access Google maps and in two seconds email the directions to herself for easy access. Every single cafe we went into had wireless broadband – but no fluffies L. And in chatting with another Spanish speaking mum, I was blown away when she quickly pulled up a You tube video on her phone of a children’s cartoon that she grew up with in Mexico called “Cri Cri”. Never mind that the local cable television offered easy access to programs for children in Spanish – including Sesame Street, Blues Clues, Curious George, Barney – to name a few. Carlos was in heaven!
In closing, the impact of travelling to a country where Spanish is spoken as if it were a second language has given me a big boost and a renewed my conviction for raising my boys with Spanish and for the valuable work we do at Los Chicos. Very shortly I will be posting a list of books and resources and hope to invite you to see the ones I brought back in my overstuffed suitcase. Also, there are many more insights I’d like to share with you from this trip so please stay tuned.