Pin It
Friday, December 2nd, 2011

When the Latina Nannies Found Out I Spoke Spanish

latina nanny/ © ArTo -

I had tried to hold out on the older Latina nannies in the park knowing I spoke Spanish. As long as we spoke in English our relationship was kept shallow, limited by their vocabulary. They would ask about my day and coo over my infant but that was about it. I knew that once they knew about me, I would never again be alone for better or for worse. While I occasionally listened into their conversations in order to entertain myself while the baby dug in the sandbox, I also appreciated the lack of forced socialization.

I got caught when one asked the other how old my baby was and I answered. Even though I said. “Thirteen months,” not trece meses, they caught it. A flow of questions were directed at me.

They asked where I was from, San Francisco, and how I came to be bilingual. I explained my grade school, Buena Vista, had been an immersion program, where in kindergarten we got an hour of English a day, with the rest of the day conducted in Spanish. The first day I came home, I told my mother I didn’t think the teacher spoke English and that I didn’t know how to ask to use the restroom. One could say I experienced in some ways the role of the immigrant child–out of their element, unable to get their needs met in their mother tongue.

With the nannies in the park, I found myself again somewhat tongue tied, my rusty Spanish standing in the way of my expressing myself more clearly. So this was how they felt speaking in English, I realized, chuckling in my head before apologizing out loud for my atrocious grammar. “No, no,” they insisted, “Your Spanish is really good.” They may have been swayed by my accent, which since it was formed in youth isn’t bad for a white girl. It’s more likely they were just being polite.

The language switch resulted in a complete turnover of subject matter. They joked with me about how they thought I was the mom at first, since we were both white and once the relationship was clarified, they admitted that was part of the reason they had not talked to me much. They were scared of the “American Moms,” they confided, intimidated to talk to them. Now that they knew I was a Nanny, well, that changed everything. “You’re just one of us,” they said, practically clapping me on the back in welcome.

They asked me why I would want to be a nanny when I had the option of doing anything else I wanted. Why with a college degree would I choose what they were stuck doing? I volleyed back at them that not all occupations are as pleasant as spending the afternoons watching children in the park, regardless of salary differences, but also thought about the privilege I have in choosing to do this as opposed to it being one of few options. They talked about being married at seventeen and widowed at twenty-three, about leaving their children in other countries with relatives, about preferring to be out of the house when the mother is home. They asked me how much I make and told me they make more.

We are different and also the same. We share a routine of diapers, snacks, tantrums and backaches. They have opened their hearts and hands to me as a peer. Being a part of the club means daily offerings of cheerios and the occasional slice of Domino’s pizza. It means an armada of hands go up in greeting when we arrive. Recently when grandma came into town and took over my duties for a week, they asked her pointedly where I was and worried over my job security. They offer me invitations to church socials and wonder why some good man has yet to take me off the market. “Maybe I introduce you to my son,” offers one of them.

There is much we don’t share in common, although little of it comes into play during our interactions in the park. The playground is a place where some of life’s hierarchies are temporarily suspended. We might not all have high-end strollers but the sandbox toys are abundant. The children are coaxed into a communalism where sharing is paramount and good manners are a status symbol. We might all be better off if these ideals were more often extended into the world of adults.

© 2011 – 2013, Kellen Kaiser. All rights reserved.

More Great Stuff You'll Love:

Don’t Touch My Child! Lessons from Asia

Has the West taken fear too far?

Are French Kids Better Behaved Because They are Spanked?

Should spanking be part of your parenting toolkit to have well behaved kids?

The African Guide to Co-sleeping

10 must-read tips on co-sleeping from Africa

Family History

Who knew that becoming a mother merged our histories of loss and grief


Kellen has watched other people parent for years. She has worked as a babysitter, infant teacher, nanny and in continuing education and quality improvement for childcare providers. She aspires to be a foster parent someday.

Leave us a comment!

1 Comment
  1. CommentsThe Globalization of Childcare: The Consequences of Trading Love for Work | InCultureParent   |  Friday, 20 January 2012 at 4:03 pm

    […] when they left the home in pursuit of improved possibilities. In my last column, I wrote about the Latina nannies I hang out with at the park and the similarities and differences between us. We are all aware that I am a well-educated, middle […]

Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail.
Or leave your email address and click here to receive email notifications of new comments without leaving a comment yourself.

Get weekly updates right in your inbox so you don't miss out!

Why I Travel 13 Hours Alone with My Kids Every Chance I Get

Travelling with children, while definitely more of a mission, contradicts the old saying that “life is about the journey, not the destination.”

A Diverse Book for Preschoolers in Celebration of Multicultural Children's Book Day

A book that honestly and simply celebrates the every day diversity that children experience.

Why My African Feminist Mother Gave Me the Identity of My Father's Tribe

She gave me an identity so different from her own.

2 Children’s Books about Jamaica

Explore Jamaica with your child.

Costa Rica with Kids: Two Weeks of Family Travel

Two weeks of Pura Vida in a country with so much to offer families.

Should I Worry about My Child's Accent in Her Foreign Language?

See why Dr. Gupta takes offense to this question and where children learn accents from

How to raise trilingual kids when exposure to Dad's language is limited

My kids only get 1-2 hours of the minority language per day-help!

What Cultural Norms Around Bare Feet Taught This Mother in Guatemala

Her baby's bare feet ended up being a lesson on poverty and privilege.
[…] the breastfeeding culture in Mongolia compared to America. Did you have any idea that something as simple as breastfeeding attitudes can […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
My mother born in the 1930's is originally from the northern part of Germany. I am in my mid fifties and have a terrible relationship with my mother. She is domineering and hurts those where it hurt...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
[…] JC Niala, InCultureParent […...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding Around the World
Although humanity is one Man (in a generic sense, including woman)has identified himself endless groups, religious, nationalistic, ethnic, cultural, linguistic, etc. Once you separate ME from YOU on...
From What’s an Asian? Race and Identity for a New Generation
[…] […...
From Breastfeeding in the Land of Genghis Khan
Some great tips here but not many working mothers could feed baby every hour especially if you work in a major multi-nationa...
From Why African Babies Don’t Cry
So true!!! Thanks for being so honest and self reflective. It's a proof of true characte...
From Are Germans Really Rude?
As a first-time mom I've spent the last two months of my four-month-old's life stressed out about her sleep and I recognize how crazy this is. It's clearly not working for me! I'm wondering how non-...
From The West’s Strange Relationship to Babies and Sleep

More Other People's Parenting