Academic journal article Family Relations

"All Colors and Hues": An Autoethnography of a Multiethnic Family's Strategies for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism

Academic journal article Family Relations

"All Colors and Hues": An Autoethnography of a Multiethnic Family's Strategies for Bilingualism and Multiculturalism

Article excerpt

This two-year autoethnographic action research study explores the processes a multiethnic/multiracial family uses to maintain their children's heritage language of Spanish and the family's multiculturalism. Data sources (including interviews and participant observations in the home and the dual-language school) specifically focus on the eldest child, Nelia, from her kindergarten and first-grade years where she attended a public dual-language program. The findings illuminate the integral link between the family's ideology toward valuing bilingualism and the necessity of school support.

Key Words: bilingualism, dual-language education, multicultural families, multiethnic children.

Today's United States is increasingly heterogeneous. As more children are born into families with differing languages, heritages, and backgrounds, many of our long-standing socially constructed identity markers like native language, race, and ethnicity are increasingly blurred and challenged (Luke & Luke, 1999). Lee and Bean (2010) have used the term "ethnoracial" to identify White multiracial and non- White multiracial groups. Although there has been an increase in ethnoracial diversity, intermarriages, and the number of multiethnic children, too many U.S. schools continue to cling to outdated policies and practices serving an ever-shrinking "mainstream." One way for our nation's schools to thoughtfully consider how issues related to heritage language play out in educational policies and practices (e.g., bilingual education, English as a second language, and heritage language programs) is to understand how multiethnic and multiracial bilingual families counter the dominance of English with strategies to successfully value and promote bilingualism in their homes.

As a sociologist and an educator, I (first author, Kim) share a common curiosity in the area of language acquisition with my co-researcher, Harriett. I am not only a bilingual educator but also an insider as the mother of the multiracial, bilingual children presented in this ethnographic study. Harriett is an outsider with an expertise in early bilingual language acquisition and Hispanic families. Together we worked closely on a 2-year ethnographic study to examine the developing Spanish-English bilingualism of my two daughters whose parents occupy different socially constructed identity markers in terms of ethnicity, race, immigrant status, socioeconomic backgrounds, and native language. Although this bilingual (English and Spanish) family is middle-class now, the father, an AfroColombian immigrant, grew up in a workingclass, poor family in a small town in Colombia and was the first in his family to graduate from college. The mother is a U.S. -bom, White, native English speaker from a middleclass background. Although the middle-class position this family now occupies offers many advantages in maintaining bilingualism, which we address in this article, the struggles they encountered to promote their home language, the biracial identity of their children, and their multiculturalism are faced by many working-class and low-income families as well.

This family's blendedness is a testament to the increasingly diverse cultural dimensions of U.S. families and how issues of heritage language maintenance play out in complex and individual ways across different socioeconomic groups. Despite social capital acquired by virtue of educational and class status that enabled the parents featured here to successfully negotiate school policies for placement in bilingual programs, the challenges faced by this family highlight the societal and educational barriers to valuing bilingualism and biculturalism and maintaining a heritage language. The experiences of this family also illustrate processes that help support bilingualism and biculturalism both in the home and school settings, processes that are applicable to families of all socioeconomic levels.


Subtractive Bilingualism: Framing Bilingualism as a Problem

Numerous educational policies and practices in Anglo-centric countries, like the United States, tend to frame bilingualism as an educational barrier for children who speak languages other than English (Martinez-Roldán & Malavé, 2004). …

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