An Interview with Maritere Rodriguez Bellas, An Immigrant, Dual Language Parent, & Acclaimed Author

Please tell us a bit about your background.

I was born and raised in Puerto Rico. I came to California over 30 years ago to get my Masters’ degree in Communications/PR/Journalism from Pepperdine University. I worked in Public Relations for a long time and then began writing a parenting column for La Opinión newspaper in the mid 90’s. The voice of Latino parents before the online resources of today, my column, Pizarrón Familiar, ran for 12 years. At that time, I also wrote articles for the National publications SerPadres and Healthy Kids en Español. My column ran in Exito! newspaper in Chicago for 5 years. I became an author in 2014 when my first book, Raising Bilingual Children, an e-book, was published by Simon and Schuster in English and in Spanish. I began blogging around that time and my work has been featured in Huffington Post, Latina Style magazine, Alegria Bilingual Magazine, Mamasporlemundo and Todobebé. I now write regularly for ConnectHerMedia’s Influence magazine and as a contributor to HipLatina.

We are all born with a bilingual brain, even multilingual, and we now believe the advantages.

Every week, I featured a Latina or Latino making a difference in my blog, My second book, Arroz con Pollo and Apple Pie: Raising Bicultural Children was published in print and e-book formats in English and in Spanish in 2016. My award-winning books are for the everyday, busy parent raising children with two or more languages, two or more cultures. They are filled with stories and suggestions that inspire, motivate and urge parents to stay committed to nurturing language and cultures at home. For the last three years I have participated at professional conferences as a speaker, panelist or moderator including CABE, REFORMA, and the Los Angeles Times Book Festival. This last year, I led a panel at ATDLE and La Cosecha and have already been invited to both in 2018. This last year I also joined a group of Latina authors that were invited to speak at libraries in Los Angeles, including the LA Central Library, the Huntington Library and the Pico Library in Santa Monica. On my own, I did a book talk about raising bilingual children to parents at the El Segundo Library, and at the Los Angeles Central Library about raising bicultural children. My next book is a series of three bilingual children’s books, Yunito’s Adventures, for ages 4-7, and finds Yunito instilling cultural pride through language and other experiences.

How are you able to manage parenting while being a successful author?

Thanks for the successful author! I appreciate that. Honestly, I delayed my book writing career until my daughter was in high school and my son in college. While they were growing up, I was very involved in their schools and their education. I still wrote my column and articles but my children were my priority. I am a big believer that when parents and teachers work together, the end result is successful children.

Continue reading to find out how Maritere balances parenting, writing and a dedication to being bilingual…

What do you think are the challenges that specifically affect bilingual parents?

First, I would have to say the lack of information about its’ benefits and advantages. For many years bilingualism stopped being a topic of conversation and parents were concerned with assimilation and adjustment to the new language. In many homes, Spanish was not encouraged. Today, there are many studies that prove the opposite. We are all born with a bilingual brain, even multilingual, and we now believe the advantages. Even monolingual parents now are rushing to sign up their kids in dual language schools! The second challenge is commitment. It is not easy to make that decision and stay committed. It is a struggle and it’s different in every home. Some homes have two parents speaking the same language. In others, parents speak two different languages or are monolingual. Staying true to one’s language while raising a child in a home where mom speaks Spanish and dad speaks English is hard. Staying true to speaking only Spanish at home when the kid goes out the door and speaks only English is hard too.

What tips would you give to parents who are struggling with implementing both languages at home?

Make a plan even before the baby is born and stick to the plan. It has to be a decision made by both parents and they have to involve everyone in the child’s life: family, neighbors, friends, extended family, teachers. It takes a village, honestly! And it needs to start right at the beginning, even before the baby is born or the baby is little. That way, they grow up with the understanding that his parents’ goals are for him to acquire fluency in both languages. There will be struggles, especially when the child starts school, but, if he is exposed to all of it since he is very young, he will tend not to see it as “I am different.”

What do you think are the benefits of dual language education?

Innumerable! From cognitive benefits that include the way one learns, to the way we remember, to the linguistics approach. Academically, the higher grades, and later on in life, a child who is bilingual becomes a bilingual employee that is an asset to any company and earns higher wages.

Continue reading to find out how Maritere balances parenting, writing and a dedication to being bilingual…

If you made a decision to raise children with two languages, stick to it. Even when sometimes you want to give it up. Keep reminding yourselves that you are giving your child a gift.

How would you explain to other parents why dual language education is necessary?

I was very young, 17, when I realized the benefits of being bilingual. I had just graduated from high school and was fluent in English and Spanish. I went to college in Europe and met people from all over the world that were fluent in several languages. The children I met, they blew me away! They all spoke four to five languages without skipping a beat. I had learned English at school. These children, they were spoken to in two or three languages at home and then school took charge of the rest. It was amazing to see. And not only I got schooled in languages, but I learned about different cultures, customs and traditions that helped me appreciate my own and respect theirs.

As an immigrant, what were your feelings when DACA was repealed?

Immigrants built this country… Why would you deny young people the opportunity to follow their dreams when in the process that benefits society as a whole? To even consider deportation and separating families, is just wrong!

What’s the one piece of advice you would offer to your fellow Bilingual parents?

If you made a decision to raise children with two languages, stick to it. Even when sometimes you want to give it up. Keep reminding yourselves that you are giving your child a gift, the best gift, for their future. Make it fun, not a chore. There are so many great resources today to help their journey! Apps, YouTube Channels, games, books, music, foods, they all can help!

Continue reading to find out how Maritere balances parenting, writing and a dedication to being bilingual…

Always find something that nourishes your body, mind and your soul.

How have you tried to help your children understand both your Puerto Rican heritage and their American one?

My children grew up with three cultures: Puerto Rican, Greek American and American. My husband is second generation Greek American. We ate turkey with mashed potatoes and arroz con gandules (rice with pigeon peas) at Thanksgiving, pernil (pork) or roasted pig and pasteles (tamales) at Christmas and roasted lamb and grape leaves on New Year’s Eve. During the year, we alternated between all the cuisines and food was a big part of teaching culture as was music, books and cultural events.

What have you learned the most from balancing being a successful writer and a parent?

That perhaps I could have started writing my books a few years earlier. But, being there for them and doing the fundraising events, the carpooling to school and sports, heading the PTA, being a room mom and helping at the library? I wouldn’t trade those years for anything! Parents wear many hats at the same time. We all do our best. Now that my children are young adults, I try to find a balance between my writing, my family life, my friends, my volunteer work and my me time. So important for any mom. Always find something that nourishes your body, mind and your soul.

Please tell us about your mission through your books.

When I became a mom I was alone. I had no family near me from either side as my husband’s family was in the Midwest and mine in Puerto Rico. And, when I try to find information that would help me, I found very little information for immigrant parents raising children in this country. I decided then that I would write for those parents like me and it became my mission to impart knowledge and help their parenting journey.

What do you hope people take away from your books?

I hope parents think of my books as resources and that they would think of them when they need the answers they are looking for as they try to find a balance between the culture they left behind and the culture they have adopted. Both books are filled with stories, suggestions and advise, easy to read and apply.

Sandra Mercuri
Author: Sandra Mercuri

Dr. Mercuri is a nationally and internationally recognized educational consultant in the area of second language acquisition, dual language education, and curriculum integration for biliteracy development. She has over 28 years of experience in teaching in K-12 schools and at the university level in Argentina and the United States. After retiring as a professor from the University of Texas System, she continued to work on research on the development of academic language across the content areas, the use of translanguaging practices for language transfer, and the effect of long-term professional development on dual language, bilingual and ESL teachers’ instructional practices. Dr. Mercuri provides professional development for teachers and administrators as well as for parents. She presents at national and international conferences on issues of second language acquisition and bilingualism, dual language education, translanguaging pedagogy, and ESL strategies. Dr. Mercuri has published articles in the TESOL Quarterly, Talking Points, EJLTS, JMER, TESOL Connections, MEXTESOL, and the NABE journal as well as the Spanish professional journals The Colombian Journal of Bilingual Education: GIST and the Revista Educación y Pedagogía and more than twelve book chapters. Dr. Mercuri is the author of the book titled Supporting Literacy Through Science: The Challenge of Teaching...

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