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Our guest blogger this week, Daisy Martinez, tells us: I am currently working as a French Immersion, high school science teacher in Regina Saskatchewan. I completed a Bachelor of Science with a major in Biochemistry at the University of Saskatchewan before completing a Bachelor of Education at the University of Regina. I am currently in my second year of graduate studies in the Faculty of Education at the University of Regina. My interests include heritage languages – particularly, the experiences and perspectives of Spanish speaking parents and their efforts in maintaining the Spanish language. Outside of university, I practice yoga and really enjoy quilting, hiking, and a good game of chess. I live with my husband and our sweet dog, Apollo.
My upbringing in Regina, Saskatchewan was in a bilingual household, and I can affirm that it takes a great deal of effort to prevent heritage language loss in an English-dominant society. My parents (first-generation immigrants from El Salvador) worked tirelessly to ensure that I learned to speak Spanish. To be honest, they worked tirelessly, period. Building one’s life from the ground up, learning a new language, and raising three children is no easy task. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and fortunately, my village was composed of many Spanish-speaking families, which helped me maintain my heritage language.
Code-switching in my family feels more natural than intentionally speaking either English or Spanish. It sounds familiar, and we switch between the two languages without noticing. For instance, “Do you want a pan con aguacate?” comes easier to me than saying, “Do you want a piece of toast with avocado?” Because Spanish is an important part of my family’s culture, when my first nephew, Noah, was born, we wanted to ensure that he also learned his heritage language. Additionally, Noah’s father is a first-generation immigrant from El Salvador, making it important that Noah knows how to communicate with all of his Spanish-speaking relatives.
The library is one of the few places that welcomes children of all ages and provides a space for them to grow. Noah’s visits to the Regina Public Library with his mom and abuelita (grandmother) were frequent, and the librarians kindly informed them of the collection of Spanish books at the Central Children’s Branch.
I was surprised to see Noah with many English library books after mom and abuela had learned that Spanish books were available through the library. Rainie, my sister, explained that the Spanish collection was limited and many of the books targeted an older age group. As such, I took it upon myself to make children’s Spanish books as accessible to him as their English counterparts.
Saskatchewan library cardholders can request any title in the provincial collection and have it delivered to the branch of their choice, so I began with an on-line search of the library catalogue. I quickly learned that searching for books using an online database was much more difficult than browsing the library bookshelves in person. The search parameters worked well when searching for specific titles or authors, but that meant I needed to have specifics in mind. I found age-appropriate recommendations online with blogs and bookstores such as Club Peques Lectores and Owl’s Nest Books, which improved my search results, but the process was time-consuming and unsustainable. Using random keywords (camión, familia, patos) works well and is less time-consuming than searching for specific titles. Although thinking of keywords can be a challenge, sometimes I find upwards of ten books with one search, and rather than researching them first—I request them all! Despite my challenges navigating the search engine, I have found some fantastic stories. Surprising Noah with bags full of Spanish library books has become a regular occurrence, and I continue to search for new titles as his interests change and his attention span lengthens. After borrowing a couple hundred books, I worried about forgetting specific titles, authors, or keywords used to locate the books online. So how to document our favorite finds? I reflected on the amount of effort it took me to find these books, and if I struggled this much, I thought perhaps parents with significantly less time on their hands might be facing a similar struggle. My solution became a website.
The Spanish Bookshelf is a website that features Spanish books found in Saskatchewan’s provincial library collection. My goal was to create a virtual bookshelf that makes browsing for children’s Spanish picture books easy, by allowing visitors to browse categories, scroll through images, and see the best search parameters to find the books in the database and borrow the material themselves. The following quote on my website illustrates the importance of taking pride in being a native speaker in one’s heritage language. I feel that this quote serves as a positive message for individuals debating about passing on their heritage language.
Every person . . . has an accent. Your accent carries the story of who you are – who first held you and talked to you when you were a child, where you have lived, your age, the schools you attended, the languages you know, your ethnicity, whom you admire, your loyalties, your profession, your class position: traces of your life and identity are woven into your pronunciation, your phrasing, your choice of words. Your self is inseparable from your accent. Someone who tells you they don’t like the way you speak is quite likely telling you that they don’t like you. (Matsuda, 1991, p.1329).
Although my goal with this website is ultimately to make readily available Spanish books more visible in Saskatchewan, I hope that my website gives first-generation immigrants confidence and encouragement to prioritize the transmission of their heritage language. More important than practicing English at home is connecting children with a beautiful culture, providing a minority language learning opportunity, and sharing stories that will undoubtedly help develop a strong cultural identity.
They say it takes a village to raise a child, and I hope this website becomes part of someone’s village by reaching those in search of Spanish heritage language resources or encouragement when struggling with the constant effort required in language transmission. Although I developed The Spanish Bookshelf with children in mind, it is never too late for language learners of any age to pick up a new book and begin exploring the world through a different lens.
Matsuda, M. J. (1991). Voices of America: Accent, antidiscrimination law, and a jurisprudence for the last reconstruction. The Yale Law Journal, 100(5), 1329-1407. doi: 10.2307/796694