Wednesday, March 31, 2010

A Family Divided

In his piece called “Aria,” Rodriguez argues that bilingual children should be allowed to be comfortable with having two linguistic worlds. He argues that neither identity should dictate over the other. Both the public and private identities should be valued by the individual. Too often, our multilingual students lose a sense of themselves, as they assimilate into the dominant culture.

“as we learned more and more English, we shared fewer and fewer words with our parents. Sentences needed to be spoken slowly when a child addressed his mother or father. (Often the parent wouldn’t understand.) The child would need to repeat himself (Still the parent misunderstood.) The young voice, frustrated, would end up saying, “Never mind—the subject was closed. Dinners would be noisy with the clinking of knives and forks against dishes. My mother would smile softly between her remarks; my father at the other end of the table would chew and chew at his food, while he stared over the heads of his children.” (37).
I felt that this family of children learning English was in some ways the breakdown of the family. Communication became frustrating. I am somewhat surprised that how these children, now bilingual, didn’t revert back to Spanish to communicate with their parents once they become comfortable with their public language. I think it is interesting how his mother would still attempt to be a part of the circle, while the father almost distances himself from conversation with his family at all. He stares beyond them, all closeness appearing to be lost. Later in the article, Rodriguez mentions that he even loses the names to call his parents—no name actually fits. :(

The article made me sad. When I finished, I found myself just sitting sitting and thinking about how language effected this family. Language had the power to pull apart a family unit. The article made me see the importance of balance of language in the classroom. As a speaker of only English, I never thought I might be putting my students in a situation where they are being alienated from their families. I appreciate other languages, but I’m not sure I do a good enough job of incorporating it into my classroom and curriculum


  1. Kate's point about the breakdown of the family unit due to the learning of the English language is huge. Teenagers as a whole often rebel against their parents and begin to shut down and not offer up important ideas or information to their parents or guardians, but the way the Rodriguez children shut down so quickly was disturbing. It seems that they lost their communication completely with their obtainment of the dominant language. Their frustrations with their parents not being able to understand as quickly as they wanted them too was evident. As a reader it was difficult to see the parents stick to what the nuns had suggested and speak strictly English at home. Code switching as Collier discusses in her article would have helped to maintain the natural language and communication at home as well as possibly promote the English language as a family bonding experience.

  2. Like Kate, Rodriguez's article really made me sit and think. My first couple of years of teaching, I never had ESL students, but last year, I had two; and this year, I have several. Last year, I had students who really assimilated into the American culture, and it was not until we did narrative and memoir writing did I even know how different their culture was. This year, I had a student who clearly could not communicate in English, and often seemed confused. I was shocked to learn he was not in ESL and went to seek guidance from our ESL teacher. I referred him and he was astounded that this student had slipped through the cracks. HE was taken out of my class and placed in ESL, and last I checked he was doing great. I now wonder did he slip through because his parents could not communicate, and the "system" just gave up trying? Similarly, I have another student who communicates well verbally; although, her bilingualism is clear, but she cannot express herself clearly through writing. I have tried to sit down with her and explain, and recongnize her bilingualism but it hasn't been cutting it. When I went to Guidance, the Guidance Counselor kind of dismissed me. I went to the ESL teacher and he came with me to Guidance. While the guidance counselor was resistant we did get out of her that the parents would not put her in ESL because they wanted her to learn ENglish because that is what makes her successful. This reminded me of Richard's parents. It really makes me sad for both my students and their parents.

  3. Lauren,

    I think that is a great point about rebellion and our students. About a month ago, a student who comes from a 100% Portuguese speaking family was transferred from another team and into our co-taught class. Since then, the school has been working to have her accepted into the special education program for behavioral reasons. So, now there is a behavior chart that has to be passed from class to class and filled out before she leaves the room. On one particular day the resource teacher in the room filled out the chart. When the student read it replied 'oh well, she's not going to understand what it means anyway-- I'm just going to keep at it." At the time, I didn't really think anything of it, but now I wonder to what degree the student is rebelling, or if she is having a hard time finding a balance between her public and private identity.

  4. I had a student like Jill. He was tested at the end of the school year last year because he wasn't talking really and failing all of his subjects. It was finally discovered that he had a language barrier that went unnoticed through elementary school. He is unfortuantely repeating his 7th grade year because of this.

    I too find it interesting when Kate mentions the dad not converting to the English as the rest of the family. The mother seemed to defend him by saying he was traumatized as a child, but I wonder if this is an excuse for still portraying the "other" way in the community. Makes me wonder how the family felt "moving forward" without dad.

  5. Language is a major part of culture. In Sociology we due a whole lesson on the importance of language in understanding an appreciate culture.

    This article made me consider incorporating a lesson about the importance of maintaining language with family members and also about being bilingual (not forgetting your home or family language).

  6. I agree with Kate that Aria was a very depressing story. To spend an entire youth so detached and seems awful. For most of the reading I thought Rodriguez point was how this manner of forcing English on students needed to stop. However, in the very last line he states "while one suffers a diminished sense of private individuality by becoming assimilated into public society, such assimilation makes possible the achievement of public individuality". It sound as if Rodriguez is suggesting that the ends justifies the means in his situation. Do you agree that is what he is saying with that line? If so, that really surprises me. There must be a more supportive and nurturing way for immigrant youth to learn English! What about the methods Collier mentions.