I am fluent in Spanish and English, and I have yet to learn a new language. Growing up with a Colombian father and an American mother allowed me to think that Spanglish was a legitimate language. A perfect illustration of how seamlessly I transitioned between both occurred one Sunday morning while sitting in church with family when I was three or four years old. A speaker from the U.S. was speaking in English, and and an interpreter was transferring the message into Spanish. After a few minutes of watching this, I leaned over and asked my mom why they were repeating everything the speaker was saying. You see, at that age, the two languages were indistinguishable. However, Spanglish is just one small example how growing up in a bi-lingual AND bi-cultural home offers a unique perspective on what it means to be a bridge between two cultures.
Growing up speaking two languages clearly reflects my upbringing in the middle of two cultures. On a basic level, I used Spanish to communicate with my dad and English with my mom; but the languages were more than that, as they were also the context where cultures were learned. For example, dancing is prominent in Colombian culture. Since I am not the greatest of all dancers, my father put me in dance class, while my mother argued that it was not that important. On the flip side, my dad would always object and argue against sleepovers with friends, while my mom was very supportive. Both of these differences were directly rooted in the two different cultures.
Being fluent in both English and Spanish is a great blessing and has been very beneficial to me–especially in the close knitted world in which we now live. Everything is accessible, yet two of the greatest barriers to this information and knowledge are language AND culture. It is not only enough to be only bilingual, as many language learners have learned. Language unlocks a culture, and being bicultural means I already have one foot through the door.
The truth is that being bicultural is my greatest asset. Always having two different worldviews and perspectives has helped me grow up in a world where normal is relative. Is it normal to kiss a woman on the cheek if you just met her? The answer: it depends. Is it normal to jump straight into business and set our personal lives aside? It depends. My nuanced experience of growing up between two cultures has helped me have an open mind and see different opinions and perspectives.
Spanglish is much more than a mix of languages… it’s a combination of cultures!