As a child of an El Salvadoran woman and an American man, Maria states that she and her siblings “grew up in what I consider to be a very normal immigrant family at the time,” with her mother speaking only Spanish and her father speaking only English. While Maria could understand Spanish, she mostly spoke English; however, after civil war broke out in El Salvador and her grandparents came to America, Maria began using Spanish to communicate with her family. She found that “[Spanish] was a window into their culture and into their world,” a philosophy that continues to serve her today.
Maria discusses how her relationship with bilingualism offered her the opportunity to communicate beyond cultural barriers, cultivating friendships and relationships beyond the confines of language:
“Although many of the countries that I worked in were not Spanish-speaking countries, I know that it’s my ability to understand other cultures through my language that has afforded me those incredible opportunities.”
Given her immense personal success with bilingualism, Maria wanted to offer the same opportunity to her daughter. She knew, given both she and her husband are English-dominant speakers, that “it was going to be a challenge for [them] to try to speak both languages at home.” Thus began Maria’s search for a bilingual program near her home, Monterey County.
Despite Monterey County’s population (70% of children come from Spanish-speaking households), there was a notable dearth of bilingual programs in their immediate area. Instead, she found transitional bilingual programs, or programs that offered instruction in home language in order to eventually transition to full fluency in English, which “did not serve the community or the children of the community.” In fact, Maria’s research into bilingual programs uncovered that dual language immersion programs were most effective in fostering bilingual, biliterate, and bicultural students; and yet, there was a lack of immersion programs in her area.
Maria is now a founding member of Dual Language Program Advocates, a nonprofit that promotes and supports dual language immersion programs in California. She states that, “when we started in 2008, there were less than 300 students being educated in the dual immersion program. Now there are 1,600 in Monterey County that are being educated in dual immersion.” Her daughter, who we see as a kindergartner speaking novice Spanish in a video at the beginning of the Ted Talk, reappears as a incoming seventh grader speaking Spanish at near-fluency. Maria’s Ted Talk is not only inspiring to those seeking bilingualism, but it is a commentary on its practical applications in our world.
-Melissa Hoppie, Graduate Research Assistant