Reflections on Heritage
Written by Banu Valladares
When I first walked into Charlotte Bilingual Preschool (CltBP) in 2017, I felt what everyone feels: a sense of belonging to a place where I could be fully me.
That was not my original experience of my new home, though. I moved to the United States in 1982 with many privileges: money, language, and familiarity from many years of travel. As the novelty of moving to the dream country wore off, isolation set in. I missed all the “familiars” that had so far defined me: my family, my language, my traditions, my culture. I no longer “belonged.”
It took me years to understand and be able to name what is so drastically different in the United States: a focus on the individual first vs. a focus on the community. I came to learn that this difference stems from the history, geography, and climate realities that set the United States apart.
So, I learned to adjust. I toned down my gestures, accent, volume. I measured myself by the U.S. definition of success, which is rooted in “whiteness.” Because I wasn’t, I came short every time. The price: I became less of me. How many times did I find myself gesturing wildly refuting claims that I was “passionate”? Latinidad seeps through my pores. It is evident in my choice of music, clothing, food. There is something effervescent and tropically extravagant about our love for each other and our embrace of our culture. I had pushed all of that down until I came to CltBP.
Everyone who first walks into CltBP will tell you: it feels like home – regardless of who they are and where they are from. Because we long for comunidad (CltBP’s top value), we create it. We welcome and accept everyone as part of our tribe, removing the labels that separate us. We heal the loneliness of being an “other,” “less than,” and a “threat.” We heal the invisibility that is reinforced over and over by community narratives that focus on Black and White and consistently leave out Latinos/as/x.
At CltBP, engagement is about visibility, acknowledgment, pride, recognition, representation, and amplification. We provide a place where people can see and hear themselves reflected in the majority. A place where we are genuinely interested in dreams, wishes, and aspirations. We refuse to see others as someone who needs “fixing.” We shift the narrative of bilingualism, biculturalism, and multiculturalism from deficit to gifts. Because we have seen and lived so much, we are indeed more open-minded, flexible, understanding. We celebrate our home languages and cultures and the languages and cultures of our new home. We provide a place to dream, to design our future, recover our talents, and remember the grit that will lead us to remove barriers so we can thrive. And more importantly, we recover our own sense of self, and we heal.
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