Sharing Language and Recognizing Biases

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Six years ago, when I started working at Hilltop, helping Children’s House during lunch
and nap, I sang softly in Spanish all the time. There was not much interest from my
young audience in the beginning, but the more I sang, the more I got their attention.
One of my sons was part of the group with whom I spoke in Spanish constantly while in
the classroom. I found that this helped increase the other students’ interest. After a few
weeks, my songs began to be accompanied by a small group of kids who would repeat
the last syllables of some of the lines while enjoying their lunches. That was beautiful to
witness and inspired me to update my repertoire.

One day, one of those curious kids asked me without any hesitation, “what is that
sound that you are making?” In the beginning, I thought the students meant the name
of the song, so I proceeded to explain it. After I finished my explanation, I realized that
that was not the answer that this student was looking for, that the questions were
about something much more complex; it was not about the song itself but the actual
sound of something that was not English. It was about the sound of something
different. A behavior that perhaps most of them had never been exposed to, something
that didn’t make any sense but somehow communicated something.

When we talk about bias, we talk about the things that aren’t consciously registered in
our everyday codes, things that might be “weird” for us, or that perhaps don’t make
any sense, or appear “wrong” based on the ways, context, environment in which we
have been raised. When we talk about learning about our biases, we are talking about
the possibilities of bringing awareness to the multiple differences that coexist in our
environments, towns, neighborhoods, schools, classrooms, houses, markets, etc. When
we talk about our bias, we are talking about the possibilities of being much more
respectful and inclusive. Seeing our biases is not a punitive action; rather, it is a cleanse
from systemic hegemonic norms ingrained as part of an oppressive polarized culture.
When we reflect on our biases, we create the possibility of constructing a different
world, one in which respect is not just a concept that sees people as individuals, as
equals, but seeks to know people as members of a broader community, of many
cultures and ethnicities.

As an immigrant who came to this country with no English in his pocket, who’s
understanding of this society was based on TV stereotypes, and polarized political
perspectives, I understood why my young friend didn’t recognize my native language.
The sounds of a different language that at the beginning pushed me aside and made
me want to run away today make sense, but I have to say that it still intimidates me.
Language is the window through which we communicate with each other. Still, I think
that understanding the cultures of other societies is the door that will open up our
possibilities for communicating more intentionally and respectfully. But it is up to us, as
educators and parents, to show children that those windows and doors can in fact be
opened, so they can accept and enjoy the differences in our communities.

-Yupaichani / Gracias / Thank you
Marco Yunga Tacuri

Marco shares a book in Spanish with Children’s House students during his first years at Hilltop.