Hi, my name is Julio, and I am a failed Latino dad.
I have been trying to write that sentence for over 10 years now, ever since I consciously stopped forcing my kids to watch “Plaza Sésamo” or listen to José-Luis Orozco songs or read early Spanish-language board books. I don’t really know when I stopped talking to my two children (now both teenagers) exclusively in Spanish, but I think it was when I was traveling way too much from Boston to California during the days when I used to direct the development of PreK-6 Spanish reading textbooks and other materials for English Language Learners. In those days, I would spend most of my professional work days speaking, writing, editing and dissecting a language that I learned when I was growing up in Puerto Rico. I was out of the house a lot, and when it was time to come home, all I wanted to do was hang with my two young kids and not turn every moment I had with them into Spanish 101.
The guilt has been with me ever since. There are times when I feel that I have let all my ancestors down because I stopped speaking Spanish to my kids. It got so bad for me that when my daughter was ready to start first grade in my oh-so-not-Latino Boston suburb, I literally couldn’t believe that my local district’s amazing language immersion program focused only on French, and not Spanish. I recall the days when I would tell my wife, “French? Seriously? French? Why just French immersion? Is Spanish too second-class for them?” Still, I reluctantly agreed for my daughter to jump into French immersion. A few years later, my son did the same.