Going back home to Oaxaca
I just got back from two weeks in Oaxaca and after a two and a half year absence it was comforting to go back. My wife and daughter are staying an extra ten days to spend more time with family.
All three of us felt overwhelmed by emotion and excitement and although I am Canadian it felt like I was arriving home. Today’s blog is about the way that I understand my bi-cultural daughter’s experience going back to where she was born and to the huge Oaxacan family that she only vaguely remembers.
Although she is bilingual, my daughter has a bit of a Spanish accent in English and an English accent in Spanish. However since I mostly speak Spanish with her at home in Canada I don’t really notice her accent, but hearing her speak while in Mexico made me aware of it. When we first arrived it was obvious that she was still thinking in English because more than once she spoke to her grandmother in English and then quickly translated herself.
She usually plays in English in Canada, and so playing with her cousins was a bit of a struggle in Spanish and she ended up mixing up and speaking Spanglish. After two weeks there with her cousin she had re-learned all the playing words in Spanish and was communicating much better.
When we arrived in Canada at the end of 2011, all three of us were culturally Mexican (I had adapted after almost three years there) and we had to navigate Canadian culture as a family. For my wife and I returning to Oaxaca was just like flipping a switch and we were automatically right back where we left off. This was not so easy for my daughter, who I realized had become very culturally Canadian because she was only two and a half when we left. This meant that everything was new to her, and so my wife and I had to remain patient and tried to remember how it felt when when I first arrived in Mexico and when she first landed in Canada to help her with the transition. The most obvious differences that caused a reaction in my daughter were noise (fireworks, loud music and TV all day), signs of affection (too many hugs and kisses from all of her family and friends!) and differences in everyday life (the gas truck, washing clothes by hand, the water truck and unclean tap water and coexisting with cockroaches and geckos). Oh and food as well…I think I’ll talk about food in another post, there’s just so much to say.
When we left Oaxaca two and a half years ago we didn’t expect to be away so long, but immigration, work, school and finances made it difficult for us to travel. Now that some of those obstacles are overcome we hope to visit every 6 months or at least every year in an attempt to maintain our daughter’s connection to her family, language and culture.
We aspire to help our bilingual child to feel comfortable and confident in both of her languages and cultures, and we know that now that she is starting school in September our family trips to Oaxaca will be even more important while she is forming her identity.