Thursday, April 26, 2007

I Guess We're Not That Unusual

I am in Nashville for a three-day church-related business trip, the second of four in a two-year period in which we are strategizing ways to encourage young adults to consider ordained ministry as a viable option. One of the most delightful parts of meetings like this is the opportunity to meet others from around the country. Our group of twenty is a diverse one in all the ways you might think -- gender, age, cultural background, geographic location, and all the rest.

Tonight at dinner I had the opportunity to sit by a young (he is nineteen, younger than our oldest son, so that makes me feel a bit dated) man from south Texas. His surname, physical characteristics and accented English lead me to believe he is of Hispanic ancestry. As we were talking, I made mention that Claudia and I have considered that when we retire we might like to move to a south Texas town and use those years to interact with Mexican-American folks. I explained to him that my wife is fluently bilingual, had lived in Mexico for a couple of years as a lay missionary, and that together she and I have worked with the migrant farm worker population. I casually mentioned, as well, that we have five children of Hispanic origin, and that we have been disappointed that we have not been able to nurture a desire for them to learn (or continue to speak, as the case is) the Spanish language.

He smiled and said in a very kind way that there are very few Mexican-American young people who speak Spanish in his part of the world. Their parents typically speak both English and Spanish, but young adults of his generation and younger typically speak only English. Often, he said, their parents only speak English in the home. It seemed natural for me to ask, so I did: "So, Robert [note that his name is anglicized, as well], are you bilingual?"

"Actually," he said, "I learned to speak Spanish because my pastor only preached in Spanish. I learned just English growing up, so if I wanted to talk with my pastor, I needed to understand the langauge."

I find that very fascinating on several levels. On the most basic level, I have learned once again not to foster stereotypical impressions based on what I perceive on the surface to be true. Although he has a Hispanic surname, is of Hispanic ancestry and is from south Texas, my young friend was not a native Spanish speaker. I have also learned that even in native Hispanic culture it may be that children are not learning to be bilingual. And I've learned that maybe our children of Hispanic descent may not be that unsual after all in their lack of interest in speaking a tongue that is native to their birth parents and grandparents.

I must admit as an Anglo I have wondered whether we are depriving our children of their cultural heritage. I've occasionally wondered if perhaps we are harboring an unrecognized racism or ethnocentrism that inhibits our children from wanting to grasp the language of their forbears. (Of course, I have not been interested in learning the German of my ancestors, although I'm only three generations removed from that language, but somehow that has seemed like a different issue).

It's an interesting world, and I have Robert to thank for helping me realize that we're not as unusual as I thought as adoptive parents of children with Hispanic origins.

And that's nice to know!

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