“Appurate!" My grandmother yelled from the car. “Hurry up!" My mother, yelled, as though attempting to drown her out. My mother and grandmother were at war with one another when it came to language. My mother, who emigrated from Mexico when she was sixteen and worked hard to overcome the language barrier, was convinced that Spanish would be nothing but a hindrance to us; a stigma.
She still spoke Spanish to her sisters, but she always made a point to address us children in English. My grandmother ignored this mandate, and spoke (or more frequently yelled) strictly in Spanish. When we spoke English she stubbornly pretended she couldn’t understand us, though my mother pointed out that never seemed to have any problem following the plots or plays on words when watching her favorite TV shows.
Though this battle between my mother and grandmother raged for years, in the end my grandmother won out. As it happens, so did I.
At first I didn’t see Spanish as an advantage. Spanish was a way to safely gossip while waiting in line at the grocery store; Spanish was a way for me and my cousin to trade secrets at school. Cursing was more satisfying in Spanish, love songs more mournful. But until the internet boomed, Spanish was a private comfort, not a marketable asset. All that has changed.
With the US census bureau projecting a 188% increase in our Hispanic population over the course of the next 50 years, corporations are scrabbling to catch up and meet the needs of an increasingly bilingual populace.
Today, sites like LatPRo and bilingualcareer.com rival Monster.com as job search and hiring resources. These sites offer corporations a way to meet their growing need for industry specific bilingual professionals; they offer me a way to pursue a professional career from home. Despite these innovations I noticed that many childhood friends weren’t utilizing their bilingual advantage.
Some worked at minimum wage customer service jobs when they could have been making considerably more money in a similar bilingual position. Others were professionals who were still making less money than they would have had they been utilizing their bilingual skills. Because they, like myself, were raised to think of their native language as a liability, they had never realized that it was now a marketable asset.
After I introduced one friend to my favorite web-based job finders (bilingualcareer.com, LatPro, etc. ), she is able to work half time and make the same amount she was making at her previous (non-bilingual) job. As a translator, I am able to work from home and spend plenty of time with my kids. Which ensures that, yes, they do speak Spanish.