When I went into labor in July of 2015 we called my parents from the hospital that evening between contractions to say we expected everything to be quiet over night and we would see them in the morning. My mom answered, and before hanging up, we decided to tell her what the baby’s name would be (on this blog I’ll call her Jo, or Jojo, and sometimes Bilingual Baby). A few minutes later my dad called back to say he loved the name and he would speak to her in Spanish.
Three months later, while holding a healthy baby girl in my arms, we learned that my dad had terminal brain cancer. My parents are largely responsible for my love of Spanish, fostering it through family trips to Mexico, helping me study abroad in Spain, and integrating Mexican culture into my upbringing via art, cooking, and the people into our lives.
I remember my dad trying every now and again to get me to speak to him in Spanish when I was a kid. He wasn’t able to speak to me exclusively in this language that he loved, but he did successfully pass his love of it on to me, and I took it from there.
This is Jo’s story, but it is irretrievably tangled up with my own and that of my parents. We lost my father in September of 2016, and because he was loved deeply, our very place in this world has been shaken. Jo has kept us hopeful and given us reason to smile when there otherwise would be none. I began speaking to her in Spanish the day she was born largely because of the groundwork my father laid for me, and now it is a little more for him than because of him.
I expect her one day to stop speaking to me in Spanish when she realizes she can just speak to me in English. Or maybe I’ll be the one to stop speaking to her in Spanish when the things I want to say to her grow too complex for my adopted language, and I find I just need my native English. My hope is that her journey with Spanish will be easier than mine was but also just as joyful. If I accomplish that, I’ve accomplished it all.