Thanks Ramon Ayala, My Kids Will 100 Survive Life

I grew up in a home where my family communicated exclusively in Spanish. So when my husband and I had children of our own, it was important that our home be bilingual. I didn’t necessarily plaster our home with sticky notes inscribed with words in Spanish, but our decision to speak Spanish was a no brainer and one we have little regrets about.

Our children, Suremikal Taiyari Pleitez is two years old, and our daughter, Ixnuukda Anam Pleitez is seven months old. These tiny humans carry our native tongue, culture and heritage. Suremikal (pronounced surem-ikal) is a combination of Surem, which refers to ancestors of Yaqui, and Ikal, means spirit in Mayan. Taiyari means our heart in Huichol, an indigenous community in Mexico, some of whom live in Durango where my parents are from. Ixnuukda (pronounced eesh-nook-da) means feminine energy, strength, and vigor in Mayan, people from which Latin American indigenous communities have roots, including those in El Salvador where my husband’s family is from. Nuukda (pronounced nook-da) means to stand guard in Tepehuan. And Anam, means earth in Huasteco, a Mayan language. Our kiddos’ names are a mouthful, and they are often called by their nicknames, Suri and Ixie, primarily for the convenience of our family. It is an honor to be able to give our children meaningful names, and we hope it enriches their own sense of identity in the future.

Our kids’ names are not Spanish. They are taken from indigenous words, a not so meek approach at understanding that the Spanish forced their language upon us, and that our heritage is very multidimensional. When the Spanish came to Mexico, a social transformation took place, and the cultural link that was usually handed down from parents to children was removed. From generations to generations, cultural elements have evolved, and our decision to offer indigenous names is an attempt to reconcile speaking the colonizer’s language with our kids’ beautiful names.

While our kids are still young, we do everything in Spanish, including the scolding minus the chanclazos. My husband is currently deployed, and with our family’s help, we are raising two beautiful, bilingual and bicultural babies. As a child of immigrant parents, I will always be thankful for my parent’s work ethic, encouragement to speak our native tongue (forced, actually!), strength and character, and endless sacrifices. They never showered us with lavish gifts, latest gadgets, hot shoes, over the top birthday parties, always went for used cars, and yet they always managed to have enough savings for school and our education. As a new mom, I am filled with an abundance of gratitude so acute it almost hurts, because I too have the opportunity to pass on these nuggets of wisdom to my children, who are my heartbeat.

And I will admit, it is HARD. There are days where I feel like I’m operating a very unlicensed daycare, constantly walking a fine line between making sure each child still gets the individual attention he or she needs, while also just trying to keep this small circus alive. Nothing screams two-ishhh under two like trying to feed the baby, while another is running around the house after just having pulled off a diaper full of pee and throwing a fit because I put his milk in the wrong cup. Throw Spanish in the mix. I mean, my household is a telenovela fail, where my tiny humans portray Soraya Montenegro with their resorts to violence and ongoing “no’s” on a daily. I also had my first “mom fail” with Suremikal at nine months. I said water instead of agua, and he immediately picked it up. He reverted back to saying “agua,” so all was fine, but I hope you can feel better about your mom life by knowing that none of us know what we’re doing. I also forgot to pack diapers yesterday!

We live in Los Angeles, and the opportunities for our family to speak and interact in Spanish are bountiful. As a family who began our language journey from birth with two parents one language model, our son expressed himself first in Spanish, and we hope that our daughter will follow suit. Suremikal currently spends the better part of his days in a Montessori school and in the loving care of my mother-in-law and my mom, who speak to him, play with him, sing to him, and read to him in Spanish. I speak to him and our daughter exclusively in Spanish, as does all of my extended family. Is it hard to raise bilingual and bicultural children? Yes. Is it worth it? 100 percent. Every parent’s journey is different and how you create your own path to raising bilingual children will depend on what works best for you and your family. Plus, I guarantee you will love the extra-cute lingual process.

Regardless, I understand the challenges that come with attempting to raise a semi-exclusive Spanish household. My husband and I speak English to one another. I believe our family experience mirrors a dramatic linguistic shift occurring in Latino families across the country, and I believe the desire for parents to raise Spanish speaking babes is there. So, how does one make this happen?

Here are some things that have worked for us:  

  1. Play Spanish music at home or in the car. I’m a lover of music, and I love to dance, so I play the same music I grew up with at home. Thanks to Ramon Ayala, Selena, Lorenzo de Monteclaro, Las Jilguerillas, Cumbia Sonidera, Mana, Los Bukis among others, my kids will 100 survive life. Sometimes your toddler will also do silly dances, and that’s OK, have fun with it. They will appreciate you for being arguably cool and unapologetic.
  2. Read books in Spanish. This one is an ongoing struggle for us. I find myself constantly searching google for Spanish books. I could use some help in this department and will gladly take suggestions on where to discover Spanish treasures!
  3. Watch movies in Spanish. So. Much. Fun. “Quiero mover el bote” instead of “I like to move it, move it.” Can you guess which movie?
  4. Get yourself some awesome Spanish flashcards. They work, seriously. And they’re a great refresher even for us parents!
  5. Don’t compare your baby/child or yourself to others. Every child is different, and dynamics are unique to each family. Do what works best for you. Trust your gut.  

I’m a new mommy, a novice at that, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s this: be intentional about what you want your children to learn, how you want them to learn it, build a village, and breathe. We’re our children’s best educational advocates, and I think we can find solace in knowing that we will advocate on their behalf 100 percent of the time. Here’s to finding friends, fellow mommas, and long lost family that share your passion for raising bilingual children and encourage you to do what you love. Cheers, traveling bandwagon community and TRIBESters!

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Rebecca Pleitez

Rebecca Pleitez

Rebecca is a mommy-in-chief with self-starter tenacity and entrepreneurial drive. She left the healthcare world to spend time with her two little ones. Originally from Whittier, Rebecca studied public health to improve health in low-income communities and changes in policy and practice for a more streamlined and cost-effective delivery of care. After the birth of her son, she had plenty of time to reflect on her career path. Most mornings, as she passed through her job, Rebecca was often amazed at the path she’d taken into the world of health and social justice. However, she wanted to reinvent herself and do something radically different, and she moved to the startup sector after maternity leave. She was the co-founder of Found!t, a shopping on demand service. After the second birth of her daughter, Rebecca moved from the startup world to engage in local politics and community work, and spend time with her children. She strongly believes that as a mom, we are our children’s first learning models. Rebecca revels in drinking a cup of coffee and celebrating another day that she gets to be with her family, feeling supported by friends and coworkers, making memories. Even little ones. Maybe, if she’s lucky, her children will remember those the most. Rebecca was appointed to the Commission for Community and Family Services by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, and received an MPH from the Loma Linda University School of Public Health, and a BS from Cal State Long Beach.

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