Why do I discipline my daughter – and dance – in Español?

As a small girl, I refused to speak Spanish with my mother.

She was born in Sonora, MX and grew up speaking nothing but Spanish so this must have frustrated her. Now, I think, wouldn’t it have been easier to just learn the language while I was small?

Thankfully, I finally realized the value of being bilingual in my teen years and made a commitment to become fluent in Spanish during high school.

I watched only Spanish TV and every summer my mom would drop me off in Hermosillo to be immersed in the culture and spend time with my cousins. It was a lot of fun, and it worked.

Now that I am a mom, I think I might have figured out why I refused my mother’s native language for so long. Just the other day, my daughter acted out in public over the absence of her sippy cup and the first words that came flowing out of my mouth were, “Mi hijita, no me grites. Espérate por favor.”

The situation caught my attention when everyone around us stopped what they were doing and looked at us, confused. That’s when I realized I raise my daughter in English but I discipline her in Spanish.

Where did I get this tactic you ask? I probably picked it up from my mother. When in doubt, I tend to blame everything on my mother.

English is clearly my go-to language. I dream in English. I write in English. I find it easier to express myself in English. But when it comes to dishing out discipline, the language that erupts from my lips is Español.

As a young girl I associated Spanish with being angry and upset which shielded me from seeing the value in learning to speak it. My fear is that this may happen to my daughter. One saving grace is that my husband speaks a different language as well, Greek. Ideally, she will develop a love of languages from being exposed to so many at an early age rather than repeat my mistake.

As a Yuppie Chicana, I noticed I do certain activities in English and others in Spanish. The Colombian singer Juanes was even quoted as saying, “I sing in Spanish but I play my guitar in English.”

Personally I cook in English. I conduct my work life in English. I exercise in Spanish, and I dance in Spanish.

Let me give you an example. I cook in English because I don’t have sazón. I read every single direction twice sometimes three times while the stove catches on fire. I take my time and strive for exact measurements but I can never remember how to duplicate or mejorar una receta.

I conduct my work life in English. Since hitting 30, I’ve toned down my jewelry, I wear less makeup and even my clothes are less Sofia Vergara and more Amy Poehler from The Office. In my experience some people are intimidated by a tall busty Latina with legs that go on for miles.

I exercise in Spanish because, as one neighbor put it, I look angry when I run. That’s right. I look like Phoebe from Friends. I run fast, slow, talk to myself, play with my hair, sprint, and do a little cumbia all because for me running is my very own dialect of Spanish.

The same goes for dancing. Every bone and joint in my body takes control when I hear music. My ponytail comes out, my hips apply for their own passport and the passion escapes from my body like Andres Cantor calling a play by play in a soccer game.

But why do I discipline in Spanish?

Even our puppy knew when he was in trouble by the way I pronounced his name. If I found the toilet paper roll chewed up, instead of pronouncing his name Oscar, it came out, OOOOSCAARRRRR!!!!

Spanish is definitely a passionate language so perhaps when I feel passionate about instilling manners and respect in my daughter, it feels best to use my mother’s native tongue to convey the message.

So the next time you find yourself in a Desni Arnaz moment at a PTA meeting, instead of flashing a sheepish smile at your admirers, throw your hands up and yell GOOOOOAAAAAALLLLLLLLLLLLLLL until someone cracks a smile.

Your kids will never forgive you but it’ll make for a great YouTube video.

Yuppie Chicana blogs here.

Sippy cups photo by Ss4hitter.