‘Ni de aquí, ni de allá’ (nor from here, nor from there) perfectly describes how I felt throughout most of my childhood and teenage years. As a heritage speaker of Spanish, I grew up in a household where Spanish was the accepted spoken language and Mexican culture was our primary world view. As my home life mixed with school experiences, I forged a new identity: maintaining my Mexican heritage while growing up en un ambiente americano. For a long time, my dual identity was a source of pride. As a child, I always enjoyed going to México and visiting my relatives; I was proud to be bilingual. My pride lessened when I entered my teenage years and I began to question my identity. When I went to Mexico I started noticing that I was being criticized for not speaking ‘good’ Spanish and when I was in the United States I was judged for speaking English with a ‘Mexican accent’. The constant judgments and implications that I wasn't good enough in either place began to interfere with the formation of my identity and I started to question who I really was and where I really belonged. I remember asking myself: Should I stop speaking Spanish and fully assimilate to U.S. culture or should I keep speaking Spanish and be judged for maintaining my heritage language and culture? Will I ever fit into either country's society?
Thankfully, during my college years at the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) I was able to end the questioning of my cultural and linguistic identity. I enrolled in two courses for heritage speakers of Spanish. Within those courses, I discovered that it was perfectly fine to speak Spanish with an English influence and vice versa because that language use expressed all aspects of my identity. I grew up eating pozole at home and pizza and cheeseburgers at school. I grew up loving American music but also dancing to banda and mariachi. Those first seem like contradictions, but in fact, show that I am a part of two cultures. The label Mexican-American brings my cultures together. If I am identified as just one, it doesn't explain all of me. I am a part of both cultures and I will ALWAYS embrace mis dos culturas. Thanks to the experiences in college that helped me solidify my own identity,I gained more interest in the Spanish field and decided to major in Secondary Teaching of Spanish with a specific desire to teach heritage Spanish speakers who might have similar experiences to me.
Upon graduating with my teaching certificate, I decided to continue my education to conduct further research in the growing field of pedagogy specific to heritage Spanish speakers. I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and obtained a Masters in Spanish Linguistics with a personal focus on Heritage language issues. After completing the research required for that degree, I knew I wanted to impact the field through direct interaction with high-school students. As a result, I accepted a job offer at Bolingbrook High School. In addition to teaching full-time, this particular position allowed me to be involved in the restructuring of their Heritage Spanish Program. My teaching journey at Bolingbrook High School offered me countless opportunities for my professional career:
- I assisted in the redevelopment of the Heritage Spanish Program. My coworkers and I developed curriculum for four levels of Heritage Spanish that met the needs of our student community. Most of our students were mexican-american, first generation students raised by monolingual working class parents.
- I taught a dual-credit Heritage Spanish course as an adjunct professor for the College of Dupage: Students received 8 college credit hours-at no cost to them.
- I presented on Heritage Language issues at the Illinois Council of Teaching of Foreign Languages (ICTFL) and the Network of Illinois Educators of Spanish for Heritage Languages(NIESHL).
- I became a board member of NIESHL
- In 2015 I also received The ICTFL Award for New Teachers of Foreign Language.
My experiences at Bolingbrook High School opened my eyes to the reality that there’s a lack of support for Heritage Language teachers. Most universities don't offer preparation courses for these teachers, instead focusing primarily on teachers of second-language learners. Teachers who want to focus on heritage language learners are expected to simultaneously educate themselves about their students’ unique needs and build new curriculum without having any guidance or support.
With this website as a starting point, my goal is to provide that guidance by serving as a Spanish heritage language consultant. I want to help your Heritage Spanish program whether it’s by starting your program or redeveloping curriculum. My goal will be to make your school’s heritage program successful by meeting the specific needs of your heritage Spanish student community.