How This Single Working Mom Raised a Trilingual Kid

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Maria came to San Francisco from Zacatecas, Mexico as a teenager. She crossed the border illegally with the husband she married in her hometown. Because of Maria’s mother’s influence, she married too young, at the age of 16, and since then has had a hard life full of responsibilities.  She is now a U.S. citizen who eventually divorced and currently lives with her three children, younger daughter Karina and two older sons in the Mission district of San Francisco. For the past 15 years she has been a single mother.

Despite working full-time and being a single mom, she has made an extra effort not only to maintain the language and culture of her native Mexico for her kids, but also to expose her daughter to a third language. “Karina started kinder in the Spanish bilingual strand of her school, but was intrigued about the other two classes where kids, who were not necessarily Chinese, were learning Mandarin. She got curious and wanted me to switch her to the Chinese class for first grade. It was her idea to do Chinese.” Maria fully supported her daughter’s interest. Maria has also inculcated in her children her love of dance.

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Recently for the Cinco de Mayo celebration, 10-year-old Karina and her brother, 13-year-old Christian, performed dances from Mexico at several locations in the San Francisco Bay area. Both kids take classes from Ensambles Ballet Folklorico de San Francisco a group that performs and teaches dances from diverse regions of Mexico. (If you live in the Bay Area Ensambles Ballet Folklorico de San Francisco will have a performance May 31st at 3:00 pm.) “I love dance and used to love seeing the dances in my hometown. When I saw the Ballet Folklorico, I was so impressed I wanted my kids to learn it,” said Maria.

Karina has also performed, together with her classmates from Starr King Elementary, a Chinese immersion school, several times at the Chinese New Year parade.

What Makes This Family Admirable

Karina is about to finish elementary school as a trilingual student. My daughter is in Karina’s class, and I know that Chinese is not a simple language to learn, as particularly the written language requires a lot of effort. Many families abandon it in the early years due to the added workload it entails. I admire that Maria, as a single working mom, was able to keep up with it.

Maria works at a hotel, sometimes managing cleaners, sometimes doing cleaning herself. “I’ve taken my kids for the past four years to work as part of the ‘Bring Your Kids to Work’ program, particularly the days I have to clean rooms, so that they see how hard I work and feel inspired to do something else with their lives,” said Maria. She wants her kids to have a career and her oldest son is on his way to earning a degree in radiology. She also wants her kids to enjoy life and do things with it before having children, since she had children so young.  But she also wants them to continue doing what they love, such as dancing.

All of Maria’s efforts have not gone unnoticed. One of her greatest moments of satisfaction was introducing her daughter to a Chinese coworker. The coworker had not succeeded in teaching her own children Chinese but Maria watched as Karina communicated in fluent Mandarin. That’s an accomplishment that would make any mom raising a bilingual child proud.

5 COMMENTS

  1. What a beautiful profile of beautiful, hardworking, inspiring, and delightful people! Getting to know Karina and her family as fellow students and as neighbors has been wonderful for us!

  2. This Karina, the Karina from the article. I’m now 13. It took this article was written 3 years ago and barely coming across it right now. I was originally trying to look for my folkloric pictures for a drawing class and I find a picture of me in Elementary school the find this. Life is sure a roller coaster.

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