The following post is written by Chelsea Cornejo, a Bilinguistics team member. We share her sentiments with gratitude for the narrative she brings to our professional and human community.
I am Mexican-American. Spanish was my first language, and I learned English when I was around 4 years old. I was born in Los Angeles, California and was surrounded by others who spoke Spanish and looked like me. Then, things changed. I moved to Texas to a city where no one looked like me, and I began to feel differently. I felt shame for how I looked, the language I spoke, our way of life. Growing up, people said unkind, racist things to me.
These last few years, however, this shame has turned into anger. From the moment my people were called drug dealers and rapists, I have not been okay. I am mad. Before continuing, I recognize that I live with a lot of privilege, a special right, advantage, or immunity granted or available only to a particular person or group. I have fair skin and can be “white-passing,” which is a privilege within the Mexican and American community. I have socio-economic, educational, and citizenship privilege.
I recognize that my struggles are not the struggles that many in my community face. I do not live with the constant fear that my family can be taken away. I do not live with fear that my rights will be violated. I do not live in fear about going to the doctor for fear that I will be deported. So please know that although I am speaking as a member of the Latinx community, this is my story and is not representative of all within our community. There are many other voices and stories that also deserve to be heard. The fear that I share with other minorities, especially at this moment (and for some communities, a fear that has always been felt), is that I, my husband, our families could be targeted simply because of the way that we look, the language that we speak, or the country we come from. My heart aches for all of us that live with this fear.
Here’s why this matters
Our students, clients, and families come from different backgrounds. We do not often know their life situation or what they might be dealing with at home. At the beginning of this year, I helped translate for one of my student’s parents who was doing (what felt like endless amounts of) paperwork to enroll their child in an after school program. We spent almost three hours together. At the end of our time, this parent trusted me enough to share that she was struggling to feed her children. She was a single mother who relied on food stamps. Because of recent legislation, she, and many of her friends, was worried about re-applying for government aid because it could affect them in the future when they applied for citizenship. My heart ached for this family, and I felt helpless.
Our families are often dealing with a lot at home. We need to be conscious of this as we work with them. Our students may come to us hungry, they may come to us without background knowledge of certain vocabulary/themes, and they may come to us with anxious thoughts. It is our job to meet them where they are.
Here’s what we can do
I have struggled for three years about my place in this fight; how can I help? Donating is wonderful, but there are still kids in cages. Volunteering is wonderful, but we are still targets of terrorist attacks. What can I do? What I have decided is that donating, volunteering, posting on social media, and VOTING are part of our work.
However, one of the most important things I can do in my day-to-day is to show up and provide a safe space for my students and clients. I can check in with them at the beginning of each session. Sometimes, this means that we spend more time talking about our emotions than we do working on /k/ and /g/. Providing a safe space for parents includes ensuring that we always provide them informed consent. We explain reports, IEPs, and legal processes in a parent-friendly manner. When we do not speak their native language, we provide knowledgeable interpreters that also explain the legal jargon in a parent-friendly manner.
This also means calling parents after the IEP meeting and making sure they understood what was said during the information-loaded and daunting meetings. We must also honor and celebrate our students’ and families’ cultures. This means reading books, watching videos, and having discussions about Dia de los Muertos (Day of the Dead), Día de los Reyes (Three King’s Day) and Las Posadas during Christmas.. Keep in mind that these discussions go beyond food and dress. We also go into tradition and what makes each holiday meaningful. We honor each student and each family for who they are. In a recent trailer for In the Heights, Abuela Claudia, the grandmother in the story states, “We have to assert our dignity in small ways. Little details that tell the world that we are not invisible.”
SLPs, let us help our students and families assert their dignity and make them feel seen and known.