The Wonderful Gift of Multilingualism


by Marcela Davison Aviles

Writer Marcela Davison Aviles shares the speech that she made at the graduation ceremony for the San Jose Hoover Middle School 8th grade Spanish/English Immersion class. Marcela shares her own family history and past as she touches upon the importance and pride that comes from being a multi-lingual graduate.

You know, Father’s Day is right around the corner and I’d like to tell you all a story about a girl fromTucson, Arizona, and her Dad that calls to mind the journey that you are commemorating today. This girl’s family was from Mexico– her Mother from Guadalajara and her Father from Sonora.  Her parents immigrated to the US in 1925 and 1944. In those days, students were not allowed to speak Spanish in school. In fact, they were punished if they did. The girl’s Mother – my Mother — was 12 when she came to the US – and she was forced to attend school with first graders until she could learn English with enough fluency to join kids her own age.

Think about it. How would you feel if you moved to a new country, a new town, and were told that you had to attend class with first graders?

The girl’s father fought in WWII – the great world war of freedom — as a member of the United States air force. After the war he started a family and because he did not want his children to suffer he made a rule about what language his kids would speak – only English. He wanted his kids to be more American than the Americans – that meant they could not speak the language of their heritage – Spanish.

Why? Because this girl’s father – who was my Father – did not want his kids to experience discrimination. And he believed – he knew – that if we spoke Spanish outside the house we would be discriminated against. He also was proud of his American heritage, and felt that we should be too. My Mother wanted us to speak Spanish – so she and my Grandmother only spoke Spanish to us and my Dad spoke English only.

But in those days it wasn’t cool to speak Spanish outside of the home – kids would make fun of you – teachers would punish you. So we learned English and mostly forgot our Spanish. That’s why I’m speaking in English to you now.

So you have been given a wonderful gift – the opportunity to know both languages fluently and to be part of a community that is proud of your heritage – wherever your family came from.  You’ve been given wings of harmony and cadence – the cadence of both the Spanish and English language – and the harmony that comes from pride in your heritage. Make sure you continue to use these gifts every day – because the more you do – the more others will hear you and understand that to be immersed in the language and culture of two countries is not only cool – it’s smart, and it’s not only smart, it’s beautiful. Today when you graduate, you will have something that I never had when I was a student, not even when I graduated from Harvard College and the Stanford Law School. You have a membership in a very special club – the club of multi-lingual confidence and pride. 

Marcela Davison Aviles is an author, lawyer and CEO of the Mexican Heritage Corporation and Executive Producer of VivaFest, a leading Latino cultural festival of Latino music, theatre, education, film, new media and the visual arts.