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Growing Up Between Two Worlds

Posted on Monday, September 13th, 2010.

Chris and Olga Galvez

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.”

5 Responses to “Growing Up Between Two Worlds”

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  • I can understand where these to are coming from. My Grandmother and my Grandfather had an bi-racial relationship back in the late 1930. My grandmother is Japanese and my Grandfather is black. They had a lot of problems about their relationship at that time. But at the end of the day, they stuck together no matter what and im so proud of them. They have been together for almost 30 years now.

    Comment from Reina Roach on November 23, 2010 at 3:42 am - Reply to this Comment
  • I decided to read this story based on the title, as I went on I really felt identify with the story in some wasys. I been here for almost ten years and I know the feeling of being new in a country. It is hard to adapt to the culture, to the language and to the many variety of cultures in this country. As Chist went on with her story I like how she felt about other language and other people because like her I love the Enlgish language and also their variety of cultures.

    Comment from Debora Monzon on October 2, 2010 at 12:05 am - Reply to this Comment
  • This story is really fascinating. Usually if two bilingual people get married the more frequently used language becomes the dominant one but here Spanish was the dominant one. Even the children were raised like that at home and the most shocking thing is that Chris never had any kind of arguments with her husband regarding this. Because most people bicker about these kind of things a lot!!!

    Comment from afsana anwar on October 2, 2010 at 12:01 am - Reply to this Comment
  • Definitely a persistent story! This story is relevant of what’s going on today in the families living currently in the U.S. Because it touches the point where, families are having more than one language spoken in their homes. We have the new generation developing new skills to be more successful later on life. I believe is always important to teach our children our native languages and our cultures; to keep them vivid. In the way, the following generations are going to continued them alive.

    Comment from Amada Monzon on October 1, 2010 at 11:32 pm - Reply to this Comment
  • Thanks for sharing such a lovely story. Olga and Chris sound like amazing people.

    Comment from nina on September 14, 2010 at 9:54 am - Reply to this Comment

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