My journey with languages began 25 years ago. I was born in Miami, Florida to Cuban immigrants. My parents had been in the United States for less than a year when I was born, which meant they had a very limited understanding of the English language. I managed to go through the first 4 years of my life speaking only Spanish, which to be honest is quite easy to do in a city like Miami, where Spanish is so prevalent. Everyone in my small world spoke purely Spanish and it wasn’t until I began Pre-Kindergarten at age 4, that I realized there was a whole other world out there in English. I struggled to pick up the language the first few months because no matter how much I learned at school, the second I left I wen’t straight back into my Spanish bubble. Thankfully, this only lasted for a couple of months and slowly it started all making sense. I found such utter joy in being able to communicate with all my classmates and my teachers. I slowly started watching primarily English cartoons and as my cousins began learning English as well, that became our primary means of communication.
There even came a time when I wanted to rebel like other kids and start only speaking English. Of course my plans were foiled due to the simple fact that my mom and the other 90% of my family only spoke Spanish. I did find small ways to fight back, for example, refusing to participate in our weekly Spanish lessons at school. Looking back this was so ridiculous but at the time I felt such a divide within myself. When I spoke Spanish I felt I identified as Cuban but when I spoke English I identified as American. I couldn’t grasp the concept back then that I could be both. It wasn’t until years later that I realized what a tremendous privilege it was for me to grow up bilingual, to be able to say I am fluent in both is such a wonderful gift. Both languages are now such an integral part of my identity and I would not change that for anything in this world.
Look forward to a couple more posts about the ups and downs of growing up bilingual in the United States. The good, the bad, and the downright hilarious!