A Gringa Mom Raising Two Little Latinas-MainPhoto“Your girls look just like you!”

I hear this constantly. And they do look like me, especially my eldest with her blond hair, fair skin and blue eyes. No one really knows by looking at them that half of their genes are Mexican/Peruvian/Spanish. But there are moments when their little Latina comes out.

“I would like a burrito, please,” my eldest says with a perfect trill of the tongue. They accent Spanish words flawlessly. It always surprises the restaurant staff.

They have a smattering of words they always say in Spanish: Agua, leche, but my personal favorite (even though it’s slang) is chonies. As in “Check out my chonies!” They laugh hysterically as they flip their skirts up at each other. Once at the park, my oldest was playing with a boy who happened to be Hispanic and she busted out, “Ayúdame, por favor.”

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The boy looked at her like as if to say, “Aww cute. This little white girl learned some Spanish from Dora.” This is the usual reaction to when their little Latina comes out.

To be honest it would be easy not to acknowledge that they are half-Hispanic. And I don’t mean that in a negative way. Until recently, I hadn’t given a lot of thought to the fact that I have bicultural children, which also means they probably, at ages 6 and 3, don’t think about it either. But it’s dawned on me that even though I’m not Latina like they are, it is my responsibility as their mother to help them understand who they are. And Dora the Explorer is not enough.

It’s not like it’s super-easy for them to stay attuned to their Latina roots in our house. The girls’ father and I are divorced (though he is very involved), and I grew up with limited multi-cultural opportunities in the suburbs of Chicago. I’m Irish, German and Scandinavian, and I don’t speak Spanish, besides what I learned in high school and from living in California for the last 15 years. To be painfully honest, I worry every time I use the word “Latina” or “Hispanic” that I’m not using it correctly. Who am I to give this education? I find myself thinking. Is it my right as someone who is not of these cultures?

I’ve decided as their mother, yes it is my right, as well as my responsibility, to help them learn about both halves of their culture. And some of the things I can do to educate them—and myself—in the process also happen to be my favorite pastimes.

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Read to them: Being a writer, books are my go-to tool. I absolutely love Monica Brown’s books: Marisol McDonald Doesn’t Match and Chavela and the Magic Bubble (my girls practically have that one memorized). And we can’t seem to read Pam Munoz Ryan’s Mice and Beans enough.

Eat: I love to experiment making food! Empanadas, tamales… bring it on!

Listen to music: Music is another go-to for me. My girls love a good dance party.

Craft: Yep, I’m one of those—I’m a crafty mom. Cinco de Mayo? Dia de los Muertos? Time to stock up on glitter. We will craft.

Learn the language: It’s time to dust off the Rosetta Stone discs I’ve had for a couple of years now. No more procrastination. I really need to get beyond. “Hola, me llamo Mamá.”

Don’t worry. I’m not going to become the crazy gringa on the block, who wears a sombrero around the house and joins a mariachi band. (Unless I dig that sombrero, then I’m totally wearing it.) But at my favorite Mexican restaurant, La Fiesta Grande, I’ll continue to sit next to the Mariachi band, because they’re awesome and I swear my enchilada would not taste as good without the ambiance. The bottom line is that my ultimate goal as a parent is to teach my girls incredible self-awareness and self-worth. And learning about their Latino culture is part of that.