As the Latinx population in the United States continues to grow, the lineage of our Spanish language is being compromised due to English being the most prominent language in our schools, work, and amongst our peers. A good example of this is Catalina and Jessica, two friends who embarked on a journey to share their passion for the importance of raising bilingual and bi-literate kids. After meeting at the library during storytime for their two little girls, Catalina and Jessica sparked an instant connection over language. Both being Spanish speakers, Jessica a first-generation Mexican- American, and Catalina, who was born and raised in Colombia felt an immediate connection with each other.
Like many first and second-generation Latinx individuals, Jessica felt discomfort when it came to speaking in Spanish due to the judgment she would face. However, that was not the case when she met Catalina. She felt an immense amount of comfort with speaking Spanish to her, which later ended up turning into a language mentorship.
Although Jessica grew up with Spanish as her first language, like many growing up in the states, English grew to be her dominant language while Catalina was a fluent native speaker. As the two grew a closer friendship with one another, they continued to meet up at the library, and through natural conversation discussed the missing component of Spanish stories in libraries. The two women found themselves eager to dig into how they can make this happen. Every meet-up consisted of reporting back on the information they each found on how to make a Spanish storytime possible for not only their children but for other children as well.
Jessica: “We both tried reaching out to different library branches to see if they would take any volunteers to do it. And honestly, I thought Catalina was a shoo-in. She is a native speaker. She has a Ph.D. and she has experience teaching in Spanish. And you know for whatever reason, the libraries weren't taking volunteers at that time. And so, we just gave up for a little bit. We stayed in touch. I had my second child and once my son was born, I asked her, hey, what do you think about doing Spanish storytime at my church’s community house? My church offered us their space to use for free. That's when we decided to build a website, establish a social media presence, print and hang flyers in the neighborhood. We were like two giddy moms ready to take on this project. We put in so much time right at the beginning to prepare. We even rehearsed in front of each other."
Jessica: "From the beginning, we supported each other. We really believed we had a good program to offer, we just needed to find a way to get people to come. Here comes the good news. Three months after our first Spanish storytime, the Chicago Public Library - Sulzer Regional branch saw our flier in the neighborhood and asked if we could provide a Spanish storytime. If you could have seen our faces after receiving Sulzer’s invitation, you would have thought Catalina and I had won the lottery! We are so grateful to have been able to provide Spanish storytime at Sulzer for the past 3 years!"
Jessica: "I think reading is really important for building vocabulary. I knew that reading in Spanish would help fill any gaps that I will inevitably leave with my kids. I took my daughter to storytimes, and I had mixed emotions when I would take her. On the one hand, I genuinely admired our children’s librarian and thought storytimes were magical events. On the other hand, two concerns really troubled me. My first concern was the thought that if my daughter did not have the opportunity to experience storytime in Spanish that she would slowly begin to dissociate books with Spanish. In other words, reading is for English, and Spanish is for speaking. The other concern I had (and still have) is that if spaces, where kids can have fun with their friends and speak Spanish, do not exist, our children and other children will not develop a love for the language and have any incentive to keep speaking and reading in Spanish."
Both Catalina and Jessica knew the importance and difficulties that came with learning two languages but still were set on making this transition easier for their children by implementing reading and writing in Spanish at an early age.
Catalina: “There are so many things going on when you learn a language that is not the dominant language in the country you're living in. Many kids may feel that Spanish is the language you only speak with your family at home because it is forced upon them. But when they're at school, they don't have that support to speak in another language. When they go to school, they are going to learn English since it is the business language and the dominant language. Naturally, they will feel more comfortable speaking English."
Jessica: "It's important for the next generation to learn Spanish because it will help them connect with their culture and their family. There is now research that supports the cognitive benefits of being bilingual versus when I was growing up or when my mami was growing up in the US, there was a misconception that being bilingual will confuse a child. That's not the case anymore. I think learning Spanish will help the next generation become better global citizens. And what I mean by that is learning another language teaches things like flexibility, communication. It opens you up to diverse perspectives."
Although not being able to speak the language will not revoke your Latinx card, it is an important element to fully immersing yourself in your culture and allowing you to pass down traditions from generation to generation.
If you’re looking to join this amazing community, please follow them on their Facebook page at Spanish Storytime - La hora del cuento every Monday this month for virtual storytimes!