Growing up in Lima, Peru, knowing English, thanks to my parents and bilingual education, was not seen as detrimental. This was not at all the case when we moved to Denton, Texas. My mother took a position at North Texas State University, now renamed The University of North Texas, Dr. Phil McGraw’s alma mater.
I was close to finished with high school; my sisters were enrolled in elementary and middle school. In Texas, they were so thoroughly discriminated against for speaking Spanish, that they stopped speaking it altogether.
What a shock that was for me.
Spanish was our common language!
I did not adapt well to high school; therefore I took the S.A.T. and was accepted into North Texas State University on early admission. What a relief.
I went back to Lima that year to participate in Carmelitas’ graduation ceremonies. I had been so miserable in the States that my mother feared I would stay in Lima. I did come back, but with one of my best friends in tow. MariTere’s father had gone to Texas Tech, and wanted to give his daughter the same educational opportunity.
MariTere spent a year with me in Denton, then transferred up to Lubbock. Her year with me helped me to transition into life in the United States.
So, what happened? Why can I live in the two languages equally, whereas my friends here, whose experience is the mirror image of mine – Spanish-speaking parents, schooling in U.S. English – usually don’t have the same ease with the language?
It’s not that I am unique – far from it! There are lots of children of immigrants here.
Dr. Otto Santa Ana, professor at UCLA (currently at UDC as his wife serves as Assisant Secretary of Education) put it for me succintly: The dominant language in the United States is English. No other language is accorded the same respect. The dominant language of my childhood was Spanish, but English was not neglected.
In spite of its prevalence, Spanish is not celebrated here. The United States has the fifth largest Spanish-speaking population in the world, yet Spanish speakers are not supported, rather they are discriminated against and even vilified.
It doesn’t have to be this way. There are renowned academics at most universities in the U.S. who can easily move Spanish-speaking children of immigrants into the realm of Cervantes. I know. They did it for me.