Why we go to Spanish story times
Pop quiz! What is the official language of the United States?
Trick question! There is no official language. It is true, only a quick google search will confirm this.
Knowing a second (or third, or fourth….) language has numerous benefits. Many are practical: more employment opportunities, higher wages, more ease when travelling, etc. A language is more than a set of words, however, and knowing two languages is more than knowing two ways to say the same thing.
Language is fundamental to culture. Studying a language also helps us to see there are multiple ways to describe, perceive, and understand the same thing. Furthermore, it helps us to see there are multiple ways of being, of living, of interpreting, of interacting, of knowing in this world.
I feel that if we all grew up understanding this, a lot of strife could be prevented.
It is with this objective that I take my girls to Spanish speaking events. Why Spanish? Perhaps because of childhood memories of out-of-state relatives visiting and everyone speaking in Spanish, including typically English speaking in-state family. I remember wishing I could participate, hear the stories and jokes, join in on the laughter.
Perhaps also because the United States has the second largest population of Spanish speaking citizens, second only to Mexico. Yes, that means we have more Spanish speakers than Spain or any of the countries of Central and South America.
That really is not surprising when we remember that a large chunk of the United States used to be territory of Mexico and also the United States has a history of actively recruiting Mexicans to work in the United States when it was deemed beneficial for U.S. citizens. Look up the Bracero Program, for example. (Hmm…opportunity or exploitation?)
According to the Pew Research Center, in 2013 there were 37 million Spanish speakers in the U.S. and they project 40 million by 2020. (I suppose Spanish isn’t a foreign language after all). That is a lot of people who can be better engaged with, interacted with, made friends with, and have mutual understanding and empathy built with when one adds Spanish to their language repertoire.
But hey, that’s why I focus on Spanish speaking events. There is anything but lack of options, however, considering that in 2015 the U.S. Census Bureau reported 350 languages spoken in U.S. homes and today Ethnologue reports 7097 known living languages in the world.
As a parent, obviously I am not talking with my toddler and infant about statistics. Instead we go to different Spanish story and music times in town, at home I read age appropriate books written in Spanish, and sometimes my toddler watches a cartoon in Spanish.
My toddler loves to dance whether she hears the radio, hold music on the phone, or what to her is apparently the music of geese honking. Taking her to see Mare Advertencia Lirika was a no brainer. A Zapotec woman from Oaxaca, Mexico, Mare raps as a means of active resistance to gender inequalities. Not knowing the language that Mare was expressing herself in created no barrier to enjoyment for neither I or my toddler. My girl wanted only to dance and be as close to Mare as possible and I couldn’t help but be pleased watching my daughter enjoy herself so much to feminist music.
If there are times when she feels a small measure of uncomfort due to not understanding the language spoken around her at such venues, my hope is that as she grows she develops empathy for the vast number of people who do not speak English, or who have limited English, in the U.S. but have to survive in a country of predominantly English speaking citizens.
What are ways that you expose your kids to languages not always spoken at home?