(Photo via Carissa Rogers, Flickr CC)
¡Amig@s! Today’s edition of Family Fridays is one that I’m convinced will leave you energized in this challenging, but rewarding, journey of bilingual parenting. I’m excited to introduce you to Dania Santana, the creative force behind the blog La Familia Cool. Originally from the Dominican Republic, she now lives with her husband and three young children in the United States, where she lives and breathes (and, writes about!) bilingualism and multiculturalism.
Be encouraged, friends.
Let’s start with you, Dania. Can you tell my readers a bit about yourself, your background, where you’re from?
My name is Dania Santana (a.k.a. MamiCool) and I’m from the Dominican Republic. I’ve lived in the United States for over a decade and have learned so much about American Latinos and their contributions to this country that that has motivated me to create awareness on the subject and hopefully create more understanding for the future for my children and other Latino children who were born here. I’m a bilingual Latina mom of three, raising multicultural, bilingual children that are as proud of their heritage as they are of being American. Professionally, I’m a writer, editor, translator and blogger who enjoys being a mom and a creative force. I love all the things that generate joy and passion in life: sports, art, nature and love.
¡La Familia Cool!:
How was “La Familia Cool” born?
La Familia Cool was initially born when I stayed at home with my daughter (first child) and all my friends were in the workforce. I started feeling isolated in my journey as a first time mom, and an immigrant to the United States. My background is in journalism and I was already blogging since 2007 about other topics, so it occurred to me that there should be other Latin American women raising their children in the US. Turns out I was right and my mom blogger journey began.
How did you decide on the name?
My very first thought was to use our family last name The Such Last Name Family. However, I realized that using both my husband’s and my last name will make it way too long to be interesting. Then, I thought of the bilingual journey I had intended for my child and family, plus the aspiration of staying cool through parenthood. All of that came together and I decided to use the word Cool as a last name. I feel very proud of that creative moment, because that name has taken me to where I am now with my site as it has allow me to evolve from just bilingual parenting to include the multicultural and multiracial part of it for us and other Latino families.
What role does family play in your website, company, and daily life?
Family is at the center of my site and my life. I always knew I wanted to be a mom, ever since I can remember. So, five years of blogging and 3 kids later, I’ve become a mompreneur and have made my professional career fit my life as a mother. On my Spanish language blog I write about parenting, share stories about my children and raising bilingual and multicultural children, all within the American Latino experience.
What is the mission behind your blog?
The main mission of my site is to create awareness about the American Latino. To remove the idea of Latinos as foreigners, since the majority of Latinos living in the US were born here. I feel US-born Latinos are denied their Americanism by being viewed just as immigrants. This is something that doesn’t happen with any other group. I like to showcase the contributions of American Latinos and how while they are proud of their heritage and cultural backgrounds, they are also a part of the American fabric and are a positive influence in all aspects of society.
What topics most interest you and your readers? What do you most enjoy writing about?
I love writing about culture, being multicultural and bilingualism. I also write about parenting and how to raise confident children. My main audiences are moms who are raising bilingual children and who are looking for advice on how to do that. The blog also serves as my family diary where I post my children’s milestones, birthdays, family travel and everything in between.
Your website says that your goal is create “awareness about the new Latino family.” Can you paint a picture for us of what this “new” Latino family looks like in 2015? What would you like to bring awareness to?
The new Latino family is more mixed than it used to be, not only racially but also culturally. Many American Latinos have more than one background from different Latin American countries and also from families made up of one Latino parent and a non-Latino parent. The new Latino family is more often than not bilingual and its members are more educated than what you used to see in the past. Moreover, Latinos are showing they are equally interested in American culture and way of living as they are of their Latino heritage and cultural experience in the context of living in the United States.
Ser bilingüe (Being bilingual):
Tell us a little bit about your own bilingual and bicultural journey.
I was raised monolingual until I was 19 years old, when I started learning English in the Dominican Republic. During the years that followed, I visited the United States as an exchange student and continued to improve my language learning. Learning English changed my life on many levels, as it opened professional opportunities in the Dominican Republic as a journalist and it opened so many doors for growth. Then, when I relocated to the US, being able to speak and write proper Spanish also opened many doors and gave way to a new direction in my career.
What’s it like raising bilingual and bicultural children?
Raising bilingual children is one of my missions as a parent. Being able to give the gift of more than one language to my kids is as important as providing them with a good education and a strong cultural background. I can be challenging on the day-to-day, but it is so rewarding to see children thrive and grow confident by being able to communicate and understand both of the cultures they live in.
What is your family’s language policy?
Both my husband and I are from the Dominican Republic and are bilingual. Our language policy is non-negotiable and it’s working wonders for us. We always speak Spanish among us. I want to hightlight always. What I mean by that is that no matter where we are, at home or anywhere else, and no matter if the people around us don’t speak Spanish, we only communicate amongs us in Spanish. That, in my opinion, gives the right message to children. Being bilingual is common, normal and a good practice. When people choose to just speak Spanish at home, in my opinion, they send the message that there is shame in speaking another language outside of the home. It creates anxiety and a negative feeling towards learning Spanish.
What are some challenges you’ve faced?
One of the challenge is prejudice; people can be judgemental about the fact that you are speaking a language other than English. Some have expressed that my children will not learn English properly (both my five- and three-year old are bilingual; the third child is still a baby). When we are outside people might be awkward, not knowing if we speak English or show they don’t approve of us, which can affect the kids a bit. Also, now that my daughter is headed to first grade (she attends a dual-immersion program) I see how she is choosing to speak more English at home, which I have to constantly remind her that we only speak Spanish among us.
Talk to us about some of the benefits of a bilingual home.
A bilingual home has many benefits. Among those benefits, there are the studies that show how the bilingual brain works and how learning two or more languages early in life makes our children think more flexible, and think “outside the box” as opposed to monolingual children. For families that have other origins, it is crucial teaching the two languages in order for the children to feel a part of that culture. In families where kids don’t learn the other language, there is no identification with the culture of origin and this sometimes creates a sense of not belonging anywhere or feeling rejected by the culture that the child is not embracing.
What have you learned as a bilingual parent?
Being a bilingual parent has taught me many lessons. The most important one is to stay true to our beliefs and face opposition and challenges in our bilingual journey. It has also taught me to be an advocate for my children and to try and make sense of the experiences of Latino children in the US. I’ve learned that bilingualism is vital to understanding the cultures who live in here in the US; and being a bilingual parent helps me raise citizens who completely embrace who they are, and who are more open to other cultures and other languages.
WOW! Muchas gracias a Dania for sharing so much with us today about her adventures with bilingual living and parenting.