How One Reno Mom Maintains Her Colombian Culture For The Next Generation
Diana Tibaduiza migrated to Reno from Colombia in the early 2000’s. Her early years in the states exposed her to a life of bullying and trauma as a young Latina learning English. Now, she's raising two first-generation American children who are currently enrolled in the Washoe County School District. KUNR's Stephanie Serrano spoke to Diana about how her hardships and culture shock shaped her motherhood.
Diana left her home country of Colombia at the age of 18, at a time when her young adult life was filled with musica, comida--which is food, family parties and a community that was built on trust.
She started her senior year at Galena High School and was quickly placed into three ESL classes, or English as a Second Language, a program to help non-native English speakers learn the language. Since then, the district has changed that acronym to ELL, English Language Learner.
While roaming the hallways at Galena, she says she was easily identified as Latinx because the school was predominantly white. She’ll never forget that transition.
“Horrible, horrible, fue una experiencia traumática,” dijo Diana. “Yo no quería estudiar yo venía de una comunidad muy tranquila muy sociable. Todos nos conocíamos de desde kinder hasta el 12 y luego venir acá sin amigos, la gente que yo pensaba que hablaba español me miraba así como ‘I don’t speak Spanish’ y dije ‘en serio tienes una cara de Latino y necesito ayuda y no me quieres ayudar?."
(“It was horrible, horrible. It was a traumatic experience,” Diana said. “I didn’t want to go to school. I came from a calm and social community; everyone knew each other from kindergarten to 12th grade. To come here without friends and to see people who I thought spoke Spanish look at me, like, ‘I don't speak Spanish,’ I was, like, ‘Really? You look Latino; I need help; why won't you help me?.”)
Isabel Velázquez is an associate professor and a linguistic researcher at the University of Nebraska. She says there are many reasons why someone would not retain their native langauge, but one reason has a lot to do with fear of discrimination.
“If you, yourself, were discriminated [against] for speaking Spanish or for speaking English with an accent, you don't want your children to go through the same thing,” Velázquez said. “Your job is to protect your child. Some parents understand that non-transmision is protection.”
For Diana, she continued to be bullied for speaking Spanish and the verbal abuse escalated to being physically assaulted by another Latinx classmate on the bus when she remembers being punched in the face several times. She says she felt trapped, yet she understood why the Latinx community around her was treating her the way they did.
“Entonces cómo es una manera de protegerse, que se encierren en el inglés para no tener que sentirse mal, para no sentir que les hacen bulling, que están haciendo atacados, que les están mirando por ser diferente."
(“That’s one way to protect themselves, to speak solely in English so they don’t have to feel bad, so they wouldn’t get bullied, feel attacked or get stared at for being different,” Diana said.)
She went on to obtain a two-year degree at Sierra Nevada College and Truckee Meadows Community College. In college, there were few Latinx students as well, but Diana was exposed to people from other countries.
Fast forward to now: She’s in her early thirties raising two children, a middle schooler and a third grader. Her high school experience has motivated her to make one crucial decision as a mother:
“Desde muy pequeñitos mis niños les dije si ustedes ven a una persona que no habla inglés, primero no se me van a burlar de esa persona y segundo le van a ayudar,” dijo Diana. “No me importa. Les dije, ‘acuérdense que todos en esta casa nuestro segundo idioma es el inglés’ osea si para mí fue traumático que yo tenía 18 para un niño de 10 años.”
(“From a young age, I told my kids, ‘If you see a person who doesn’t speak English, first you’re not going to tease them, and, second, you are going to help them. Remember that English is our second language in this household. If my experience was traumatizing, and I was 18, imagine a 10-year-old kid.)
Diana and her kids are bilingual, biliterate and bicultural. Valerie, her youngest, is a third grader enrolled in Donner Springs’ immersion program, where she floats elegantly between the two languages with a confidence that her mother didn’t get to experience.
Cheryl Urow is the manager and co-founder of The Center for Teaching for Biliteracy. She says she sees students like Valery being celebrated for their skills rather than shamed.
“The wonderful thing about biliteracy and dual language is that it goes from a place where we look at being [an] English Language Learner as a deficit--you don't have English--to looking at an English Language Learner as a benefit, and now we're going to support that language and support English as well. And just that little switch of going from a deficit perspective to an enrichment perspective, kids are really becoming proud of that language, as they should always be.”
Today, Diana instills several Colombian traditions in her home. She’s teaching her children to be proud of their Colombian roots. Along with Spanish being the default language at home, there are other rules. Weekly calls are to be made to their abuelos in Colombia, the dinner table is loaded with Colombian food and their soundtrack is reggaeton music. Outside of the home? Their English can blossom at school, at swim, at soccer and among friends.
Special thanks to Vanessa Vancour, the editor of Noticiero Móvil, for providing English translation support.