I am bilingual.
I was born this way. Into a family that had a Spanish-speaking mother and father, and a bilingual brother and sister.
I learned to speak Spanish first, of course. But time was spent watching Nickelodeon and (gasp) The Simpsons with a lot of telenovelas mixed in.
When I started grade school in El Paso, I was placed in Spanish-language first grade classes. I didn't think anything of it, I thought I was doing okay at this school thing. However, I was apparently doing terribly. After a few weeks in that dungeony classroom, I was moved to a bilingual classroom. This room was full of children and I went from having two teachers (one nice and one really, really mean) to having four. I remember being happy here and learning not only two languages but also how to use those old-school IBM computers.
I was in bilingual education all the way through fifth grade and never once thought anything about those few hours we spent in class working out of Spanish-language workbooks and reading Spanish fiction. I didn't even think it was weird when the teacher would ask us questions in English and I'd quickly raise my hand to answer in Spanish or vice versa. The good thing about those instances is that I do not recall ever being scolded for speaking in Spanish or answering a question in Spanish with English words. It was a safe environment for me to learn and use both the tongues I had grown accustomed to.
The problems didn't arise until I had to transfer to a different middle school. Instead of continuing on with my bilingual peeps my Mom decided I was old enough and responsible (?) enough to be capable of making sure my sister and I took the city bus to a school a little further away but on the bus route. She worked mornings so it had always been a hassle taking us to elementary school. Often times, she'd take us an hour earlier because she had to be at work, so when I finally entered junior high, she jumped on it and moved us. The problem that the new school had is that they didn't offer bilingual curriculum. They didn't believe I'd be capable of handling all-English classrooms. As though my ability to speak in and out of both languages, write in and out of both, and read in and out of both were, in fact, a disability. A disability! I remember the hateful face of the registrar, one of those Mexican-American women of the 50s whose parents raised her with fear that if she spoke a word of Spanish she would be discriminated against. There was no warmth or understanding there, she even looked offended and surprised when I spoke out (in English) and said "I'll be fine."
Well, guess what? Not only did I do well, I also won sweepstakes in the science fair that year, which took me to the district science fair. That's as far as I went, haha, but it wasn't because of any defect in my language!
I am glad I took bilingual classes, I am so happy I know both English and Spanish. I also know a bit of French, but I am not proud that I don't know enough.
There are so many of my peers that are of Latino descent and only know the curse words or how to say hello in Spanish, which I find truly unfortunate.
Being able to write and express myself in Spanish has given me many opportunities in my career and education. And to that I owe that half-nice duo back in first grade for realizing my potential for growth and success that I'm still developing today.