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Merci Suarez No Sabe Bailar

Beyond Bilingual: Thoughts on How We Celebrate Language in Children’s Literature

By Appearances, Latino Life, The Writing Life
People are sometimes surprised to learn that I began my school years as a mostly monolingual, Spanish-speaking kid. I'm US-born, but my Cuban mother - and later our whole family as they arrived – spoke to me almost exclusively in Spanish in the hope that I would be bilingual. This was the 1960s, in the days before language support programs were common. So, when it was time for school, I traipsed off to kindergarten armed with only the anglo name she’d given me (Margaret) and the vocabulary skills I’d picked up from a show called Romper Room. Kindergarten school picture Who was seen in Miss Nancy’s magic mirror? A letter I wrote to my family in Cuba shortly after my uncle taught me how to write in Spanish. I was thinking about all that because I was the closing speaker last week for the Las Américas Academy's annual Biliterate Conference, where I presented on what language literacy looked like in my own family. Preparing for that talk got me thinking a lot about my whole relationship to language, as a Latina and now as an author. And, I was thrilled and honored to hear, in the Q & A that followed, that so many of the attendees shared deeply personal and sometimes painful experiences about their own journey with their identities and language. Whether or not someone is bilingual is historically tricky terrain for people who identify as Latino or Hispanic in this country, mostly because so many of us...
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