A bilingual, bicultural home could present challenges for both parents and their children. What will be the dominant language? How do you balance the two heritages?
In July, Olga Galvez brought her mother, Chris Ettlin Galvez, to our San Francisco booth to tell the story of their family for an Historias recording. Chris grew up in a white middle class family in East Oakland. During the 1960′s Chris was hitchhiking in Central California with a friend and they were given a ride by a family of Latino farmworkers. Chris’ friend, fluent in Spanish, was able to converse easily with the family. That day turned out to be a transformative one for Chris. She was introduced to an entirely new language and culture. She went on to became a Spanish major at San Francisco State College where she also earned a teaching credential.
Having been active in the civil rights movement during this period, and with her newly developed language skills, Chris found a place in the United Farm Workers organization. Soon, Chris met her future husband, a Salvadoran immigrant. After a whirlwind courtship, they got married and began a family in San Francisco. In Chris’ words, having her children was “the best thing that ever happened to me.” Chris felt that it was important for her daughters to be fluent in Spanish and it became the dominant language spoken in the home. English could easily be picked up from Chris’s side of the family and in the larger culture.
During the civil war in El Salvador, Chris and her family began sheltering refugees from that war-torn country in their home and in the community. They became active in the Sanctuary Movement of the 1980′s. Their parish provided a safe haven for a number of political exiles and San Francisco became a Sanctuary City.
Chris now works at Community Housing Partnership (CHP), a nonprofit dedicated to ending homelessness permanently in San Francisco. CHP is teaming up with StoryCorps to record the stories of their community.
Olga has grown up aware of the inequities in our world and witnessed the efforts of her mother and others in the struggle for social justice. For Olga’s family, the commitment to a higher purpose transcended the limits of language and culture.
This StoryCorps recording gave Olga an opportunity to thank her mom for the values instilled as she was growing up in a bilingual and bicultural home. Chris had a chance to tell Olga that her two daughters are “her greatest achievement.”