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Whenever I compliment my mom’s cooking, she never fails to remind me that whatever typical Dominican meal she made that day is not difficult to make — she learned at only nine years old, after all. Her primary concern is that my future husband (who will apparently be incapable of fending for himself) will be perpetually malnourished. I laugh it off and assure her that my husband will be fine, but I am not in fact indifferent to my inability to replicate Mami’s dishes. I worry that the lives of my future children will severely lack the Latin American spirit that characterizes my home, and that in turn, they will be raised without culture.
In spite of my mild guilt for not being able to provide them with the rich culture that has so profoundly shaped my own sense of self, I’ve accepted that my kids’ upbringing will inevitably be very different from mine. Being raised in a household run by immigrant Latino parents defined my childhood. Mami and Papi were learning how to navigate life in a new country — a country that was practically a different world for them — just as I was coming into the world. To this day, we have always figured things out together; we have shared both the successes and the setbacks.
In many ways, my children’s lives will be easier than mine. They will certainly be more carefree. As a child who didn’t yet know the difference between a savings account and a checking account, I would often be charged with the task of deciphering cryptic letters from Chase Bank that I could barely understand even in English. In the end, I would just translate the parts I could figure out and pray that my parents wouldn’t suddenly go bankrupt because of an important detail I missed.
Most of the time, I didn’t at all mind being my parents’ personal translator, and admittedly, it made me feel important. I cannot say the same about other parts of the journey. I’ll always remember the frustration I felt when I sat in front of a stack of tax returns trying to fill out financial aid applications for the first time, and my slight disappointment when my parents couldn’t understand my eighth grade graduation speech in its entirety. More significantly, the pressure to make my parents’ sacrifices “worth it” — to constantly ensure that I am making them proud — is at times draining.
I am far from upset that my future children will not relate to these feelings, but I acknowledge that it is a package deal. Along with my burdens, they will also lose some of the benefits of my experience. No matter how much I attempt to produce a microcosm of the Caribbean nation my parents call home, as Mami and Papi successfully did for my siblings and me, I know that it will be impossible for me to fully recreate this atmosphere. So, what I can and will make sure of is that my kids do not lose our language.
Although I am many, many years away from becoming a parent, I can say with confidence that I will feel like I have failed if my children are not fluent in Spanish. Needless to say, there are countless practical reasons for learning how to speak the fourth most widely spoken language in the world, including an automatic increase in job opportunities. Plus, knowing Spanish often provides comical moments, like casually letting someone know that I understood their entire conversation about me after quietly listening for five minutes, or deciding to switch it up and order in Spanish at Jefe’s just to witness the employees’ confusion.
Beyond these reasons, however, ensuring that my future children are native Spanish speakers is deeply meaningful for me. It would break my heart to see my kids blankly stare at their grandparents when they speak to them. I want them to be able to understand all of Mami and Papi’s stories and their typical Dominican sayings and metaphors in all their glory. I want them to be able to eavesdrop on strangers’ conversations while waiting in line at FedEx in Washington Heights. To listen to Bad Bunny and Romeo Santos and not just enjoy the rhythm, but truly understand the lyrics. To go to the Dominican Republic and feel a genuine connection to the people, the culture, and the land.
My parents had no choice but to teach their kids Spanish so they could communicate with us, but I will have a choice. And even if my cooking skills don’t ever match Mami’s, I will ensure that my children can read the recipes to me as I follow them.
Ericka S. Familia ’25, a Crimson Editorial editor, lives in Adams House.
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