My parents are both of Hispanic descent. My dad was born in Presidio, Durango, Mexico. My mom was born in Candelaria, Texas. So I know that since I was the first-born my parents must have spoken Spanish almost 100% of the time, so not sure when or how I learned English. When I entered first grade I didn't speak English, according to my mother.
When my sister Lisa was born she was a sickly baby. She wouldn't breastfeed and she couldn't hold down any of the various baby milk products available at the time. My mom who was and is a very devout Catholic said a prayer to the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos that if she would spare my sister and make her healthy she would one day make a trek to visit the church of the Virgin in Jalisco, Mexico. My sister's doctor knew that my sister was simply allergic to the various milk products and he kept having my mom try new ones until finally my sister was able to hold down a product called Similac, which I believe is still widely used today.
Now some would argue that it was the doctors and medicine and human intelligence that made my sister well...my mom would argue that it was the Virgin of San Juan de los Lagos who made her well, but whatever the case might be my sisters illness and then her subsequent health earned us a trip to Mexico! This occurred when I was about 8 years of age.
(Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos is located in the state of Jalisco, in central Mexico, 76 miles northeast of the city of Guadalajara. The small town of San Juan de los Lagos is the second most visited pilgrimage shrine in Mexico. The sanctuary's history begins in 1542 when Father Miguel de Bologna, a Spanish priest, brought a statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception to the village. The town was then called San Juan Mezquititlan Baptist but its name was changed to San Juan de Los Lagos in 1623. In that year the daughter of some local Indian peasants fell ill, her parents prayed for her health, and the young girl recovered. Following this miracle, the statue began to be venerated by an increasing number of pilgrims including Indians, Spanish and mestizo. During this period the statue acquired its own local identity as Our Lady of San Juan de los Lagos. Between the early 17th century and the middle of the 19th century a pilgrimage fair was held each year on November 30 to celebrate the original installation of the statue in the shrine, today San Juanita de los Lagos is over 800 years old.)
What I remember most about that trip, besides almost dying (but I'll get to that in a minute) is that my parents forbade us to speak English to anyone while we were in Mexico. My dad insisted that it would be rude for us to speak English in front of his family and friends when they didn't understand it.
I remember one day walking with my sister to this little store just around the corner from my dad's Tia Luz's house (this was the aunt that practically raised him and whom we were visiting). When we got to the store I asked the man behind the counter for a "peso of Chocolatines" which were chocolate covered peanuts. I kept ordering them a peso at a time which was just a small handful because I was amazed by the way the man would roll up a newspaper into a small ice cream cone shape, fold the bottom a couple of times so the shape would hold and pour the candies in the cone and hand them to me. I thought that was so cool as all I had ever seen were the small brown paper bags we used in the United States.
Now the man at the store was a very important man in their small village. He had been to the United States many times and he had bragged to all his friends how well he could speak English. Now this was small hole in the wall store and there were a few men sitting around the store on benches kind of like you see on TV in old westerns. The storekeeper wanted to show off while his friends were there by speaking English to us. But my sister and I were very obedient children :-) and we refused to speak English to him and his friends in the store made fun of him telling him that we wouldn't speak English to him as we didn't understand the gibberish he was saying because he really never knew how to speak English. I remember a lot of laughter but that memory has always stuck with me.
Now I speak both languages fluently because growing up at home we switched back and forth between English and Spanish and never even really noticed that we were doing that. You would think that would be confusing, and at times it was, but the really funny thing I remember is that when I was a kid, I thought that once I grew up I would forget how to speak English. I mean all of my relatives, aunts, uncles, grandparents and parents spoke Spanish only right? Yet at school everyone spoke English, so it stood to reason to me that once Hispanic people grew up they forgot how to speak English!
For the longest time I was so scared that when I grew up I would marry someone who wasn't Hispanic and only spoke English and that we would live happily ever after up until the time I got old enough to forget how to speak English! Can you believe that?
Now of course I know that isn't the case. I did marry someone who wasn't Hispanic and who only spoke English and we didn't end up living happily every after, but that had nothing to do with forgetting English!
It's odd the things that we believe when we are kids and the different way we see things isn't it? Do you have any memories of your childhood that now that you are an adult you wonder how you could have been so naive?
Ok, and the part about almost dying? Well you know how they say don't drink the water in Mexico or you will get Montezuma's Revenge? Well I probably did drink the water, but what I remember drinking was a soda pop called Fanta that was very popular in Mexico. I remember drinking an Orange Fanta and my parents say I got deathly ill and they had to bring a doctor to the hotel where we were staying in Mexico. I don't know what he did to make me feel better, but I guess I didn't die since I'm here now :-)