As Latino parents who raise their children in the United States we have a great challenge ahead: to protect and maintain the use of our mother tongue: Spanish.

Our children attend school from a young age and learn a new language. This allows them to develop properly in the country they live in, a different language other than the one spoken at home.

Your child will learn to speak English with teachers and friends. Will interact in the new language in different groups and activities in which your kid participate. He or she will also speak English with their brothers and sisters also born and raised in the United States. The moment will come when your Hispanic-American child will speak perfect English and this will be their true language.

I started thinking about this subject after a meeting with friends where everybody pointed out this issue. We began to debate the topic and each one had a point of view on how to face the problem. Everyone had an opinion including parents with adolescents, babies, toddlers and even those without kids, who considered this future issue.

The outcome of whether your child speaks both Spanish and English depends on your own efforts. It’s about showing them what language they should speak at home. In the house we speak Spanish with mom and dad. And outside, with friends and at school, we speak English.

In the beginning, you may think it is impossible your child lose his/her mother tongue, because the first words he/she learnt were in Spanish! But your child will grow into an adult further and further away from home and more connected to other groups. This means they will spend much more time outside the home than in it, and if Spanish is only spoken at home, they will lose the ability to speak it for lack of practice and need.

This is why it is important to “force” your child to speak Spanish at home. If they can get Spanish classes outside of the home, great idea! But many times, those extra classes are not possible due to economic circumstances. For this reason, it will depend entirely on you. You will need to maintain and continue the development of this language, at least for the first few years until classes can be taken.

The question is not just having a bilingual child but maintaining the family heritage. Why? A little while ago, I saw a special program with the actor Al Madrigal called “Half Like Me,” where he discusses his origins and childhood, now that he is an adult. Madrigal was born in San Francisco, CA the son of a Mexican father and a Sicilian mother. He never spoke Spanish at home and now it’s so bad he can hardly pronounce his own last name. So, in some way, he has lost part of his cultural heritage.  This is why Mexicans do not see him as an equal but as a “poncho” or “coconut.”This generates another type of discrimination or bullying. Your child is Hispanic – American, raised in the United States with Latino roots. They belong to both worlds and yet they don’t. You may fear they will be discriminated against by other American children but in reality the same can occur with Latinos who have maintained their cultural heritage.

Yes, it is important for your child to speak perfect English. Yes, it is also important for them to speak Spanish at home. It is indispensable to nurture their cultural traditions in the country where he/she are born, without forget his/her cultural heritage, origins and family legacy.

For this reason, it is important to educate your child in both cultures. It is an extra effort, but it will contribute to the wellbeing and development of not only your child but also your culture.

Until the next time!