By Sue Smith
You never can tell what kids will say.
During the summer, our ministry focuses heavily on kids from immigrant families. We provide a variety of activities to keep them busy during the long days while parents are at work. This summer, we sponsored a weekly trip to the library where the kids learned to check out books and use the library, and a day at the local pool.
I’ve also taken on duties as a travel agent, as I’ve helped several kids plan trips to their home countries (or those of their parents) to visit relatives. Many parents feel it’s important to send their children to spend part of the summer in Latin America, to gain a better understanding of where they came from.
Ashley and Eric, ages 13 and 15, will make the trip alone, and are meeting their relatives for the first time. We made sure they had all the proper documents and went over important aspects of what to expect at the airport, on the plane, when they arrive, etc.
A part of our orientation was a lesson about using cell phones internationally. I told them how to put their phones on Airplane Mode while traveling, and reminded them they wouldn’t have access to WiFi on the plane. “Wait, WHAT??” said Eric. “We’ll be without internet for FOUR HOURS??” I have a feeling rural Mexico may be a bit of a shock.
Another part of our orientation dealt with packing strategies – checked baggage and carry-on. One of the bags they planned to use was large enough to carry a body. And Ashley hoped to use one suitcase for her clothes and a separate one for her shoes. We talked about that, too, and how to be sensitive to the fact that she’ll be the “American” cousin who may be perceived as “rich.”
I usually limit my leadership to driving the bus, hanging out at the pool, doing a headcount to make sure we don’t lose anyone, and making the pizza runs. I’m often chatting informally with the kids.
This week, I had three kids in the car with me. One, Jaime, age 11, was also getting ready for his first trip to Mexico. As we talked about the differences between Latin America and the U.S., Griselda, age 9, shared stories of living in Guatemala, Mexico, and now the U.S. She’s fluent in three languages. Dustin, age 10, added his memories from preschool years when he lived with his grandmother in El Salvador, and the two of them talked of chickens and dogs and life in general in Latin America.
Our conversation turned to food. Jaime was thinking about all the delicious things his grandmother would make. And everything will have jalapeños, he said – except that he said “hal-a-PEE-nos.” As we all burst into laughter, we decided it was time for Jaime to remember that he was bilingual, and to have a short lesson in “speaking Mexican.”
It’s a sad reality that many of these second-generation kids tend to lose their language, culture, and heritage. In these difficult days when there is so much anti-immigrant sentiment, kids try harder than ever to fit in with their peers, erasing any trace of accent from their vocabulary and avoiding being seen in public places with their parents, where they’re forced to speak Spanish.
Our challenge as advocates, as teachers or social workers or church leaders is to remind these kids that it’s OK to be Latino, or more specifically, to be Mexican, or Guatemalan, or Salvadoran. There is beauty in their countries and culture, and being bilingual is a gift.
Sue Smith is a CBF field personnel serving alongside her husband, Greg, through LUCHA Ministries in Fredericksburg, Va. Learn more about and support their ministry at www.cbf.net/smith.