Recently, I decided to continue my research on raising bilingual (or multilingual) children and it got me thinking about what exactly it is that I want to get out of that. The book Raising a Bilingual Child by Barbara Zurer Pearson made me think about this deeply because of its segment called for Money or for Love. Here, the author explains how some parents see that being fluent in more than one language has financial benefits like being able to land a job that is not available to monolinguals. I thought that had not happened to me yet, but then I began thinking that if I was not bilingual I would not had been able to attend college in the US and later worked in this country, so I guess, Zurer Pearson is right about that practical advantage.
Zurer Pearson goes on explaining how for other parents, the importance of raising bilingual children is not related to a career at all but rather to the necessity of having a connection with their extended families who still live in their home countries and to have a special bond with their children at home.
After thinking about these two possibilities, I have come to the conclusion that I want my children to be multilingual both for money and for love. I want them to be able to have the careers they want and not to be limited by the amount of languages they speak but I also want them to be able to relate to their families abroad without being outsiders or tourist in their own countries.
I got very excited about the possibility of raising multilingual children for both money and love after watching the movie Tortilla Soup (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0255653/). A film of a family that could very well be like mine. The father is a first generation immigrant from Mexico who has made the effort to teach his children both cultures and languages. The three grown women represent what I want for my children: they are fluent in two cultures and languages having a good mix of the values of both their Mexican heritage and their American influence.
I was even more motivated to do all what I can to teach my children about their heritage especially after watching the character of one of the daughters who is a successful business woman working with people from all over the world and who even gets an offer to work in Spain. I really want my children to have no boundaries when it comes to choosing what part of the world to pursue a career at.
But I also want them to have a connection and share what their dad and I are. To understand the jokes of each culture, to be able to sound native, in summary, to be a citizen of not only the US but of Lebanon and Mexico too. I again thought about a movie, The Namesake (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0433416/). The film tells the story of the typical immigrant family from India: the man was here working, he had an arranged marriage back in India, and later brought his bride to live here in the US and start a family here.
The movie is sad because the loneliness that the woman experiences at the beginning of their life together reminds me of a neighbor we had when we were living in an apartment complex. She had left everything she knew to be with a man who she did not know at all and to top that, in a country completely different than the one she grew up at. The man would go to work, and she would find herself home alone and so nostalgic that is hard not to relate to her.
Later on in the film, the couple has children and moves into a neighborhood where many Indian families reside so things get better for them as they find some connection to home. But then, one of the things that frightens me the most happens. As the children grow up, they do not want to speak their parents’ native tongue and they want to run away from their traditional values as far away as they can. When they go visit India, they are more foreign to everything their parents love than other tourists. It is a very sad realization for their parents in the film and for me. How does one prevent this from happening?
I guess being successful in raising multicultural children is not something that one can find a formula for and apply it. Rather, is something that one must tweak and adjust as one’s children grow up and start having different needs. One thing is certain though, I am determined to do whatever it takes for my children to be more like in Tortilla Soup than in The Namesake.