Dr. Roncero Bellido
"Three of Me"
My name is spelled N-a-t-a-l-i-e, but on occasion it’s N-a-t-a-l-y, and sometimes it’s N-a-t-a-l-i-a. My parents are from Mexico and only speak Spanish. My father can speak, read, and write English to a certain extent, but not as fluent as my younger sister and I. When I was born, my parents didn’t know how they should go about spelling my name. My parents had to decide whether to spell my name the way they were used to seeing it in their homeland or spell it appropriately in English. They decided to go with Natalie because I was born here, so might as well write it the correct way.
When I was five years old, I started kindergarten. I went in knowing how to speak Spanish and the basics like my name, my parent’s phone numbers, and my address. I was placed in a Spanish-speaking class with Latino and Hispanic classmates who also had Spanish as their first language. I don’t remember much from kindergarten, but I do remember learning how to write our names.
Ms. Sorensen, my kindergarten teacher, placed sharp, bright yellow, number two pencils at everyone’s table. The task was to connect dotted lines that marked up our name - a part of our five-year-old selves. I recall my table group. Fernando (my now best friend) was sitting across from me. He had a red shirt, khaki-colored shorts, and brown hair combed to the right. Jessica sat to the right of me. She wore a pink Dora the Explorer shirt with shorts that reached her knees. As I waited for my teacher to get to my dotted sheet with my name, I looked around the classroom. There were so many picture books in the reading corner. There were more than ten for sure. I couldn’t tell you how many there were since I only knew how to count to ten. As I looked above the jacket and backpack area, I noticed a long colorful banner of the Spanish alphabet stapled on one side of the room. It included the letters CH, Ñ, LL, and RR, which I later learned were not in the English alphabet. When it was finally my turn to receive my assignment, she leaned toward me and said, “Hello Natalie! In Spanish, your name is written like this.”
“¡Hola Natalie! En español, tu nombre se escribe así.”
Ms. Sorensen handed me two papers. One of the papers had my name written in a dotted font in Spanish, and the other paper had my name written in a dotted font in English. and . I was confused. Why did Fernando and Jessica receive only one assignment? As I scanned the room, everyone had one piece of paper with their name in a dotted font. Being the obedient student, my parents always told me to be, I didn’t question it. After all, the gold bracelet I had on my right wrist that had been gifted to me when I was baptized by my Mexican godparents, had the name N-a-t-a-l-y engraved. Whenever I called my grandparents who lived in Mexico, they would say, “¡Hola Natalia!” So, who was I? I thought, “If Nataly is the correct way of spelling my name in the language I understand, I should start writing my name as Nataly.” Literacy is being able to express who you are in the language you are most comfortable using.
I didn’t grasp the concept of there being other languages outside of Spanish. Spanish was the only language I was exposed to and known to me. At home, school, music, and television would be in Spanish. My parents, new to the United States, didn’t know much about free resources. During their time, only wealthy people could afford an education and resources that enhanced learning abilities, like tutoring and having access to a library. When my family moved to south Berwyn, my mother decided to take me to the Berwyn Public Library. She noticed that the U.S. promoted education to everyone, not just the wealthy. Although my mother had been teaching me how to speak, read, and write in Spanish, the English language was very important to her. Since my mother had such a hard time communicating with others in the U.S. because she wasn’t familiar with the English language, she didn’t want me to have a language barrier like her. It was at this moment she decided to introduce me to another world - English. My mother and I started slow. How could someone who didn’t entirely understand the language teach the language? We rented movies in English, which later developed into books. My father would come home with words he had learned at work, “Lápiz means pencil.”
“Pencil significa lápiz.”
I would tell Ms. Sorensen the next day, “Can you give me a lápiz please?”
“¿Me puedes dar un pencil por favor?"
Writing was never my forte, but I loved sounding out words like my mother had taught me when we read books. My older cousins were a lot of help – teaching me, my mother, and my father how to understand English. “I’m bilingual.” they would say. What’s a bilingual? Lingual? Did they mean lengua? Bi-lingual… are they saying bye? It is time for them to leave? ¿No se? “Bilingual means I know two languages,” they explained. “We speak, read, and write in English and Spanish. You only understand Spanish, but we’re teaching you to read, write, and speak English so you can be like us. You can be bilingual too.”
From the little English we would grasp, my mother and I would rent out four types of books from the library. Books in Spanish, English, books that had the story written in Spanish and English, and a fun book. A fun book could be a picture book, a short story, or any book that caught my attention. My mother and I both loved the Franklin the Turtle books! I vividly remember renting about twenty books every time I went to the library. My mother would bring two plastic bags every time we would go. The bags would be placed on my nightstand, and every time we would finish reading a book, we would add it to the bag of books we would return. I would ask my mother why did we need to return them. She explained that the library was kind enough to share their books with us, so we should let other families have their time with the books too!
“¡No podemos perder estos libros! La biblioteca también tiene que compartir los libros con otras familias. Es bonito compartir.”
I remember always running straight to the kid's section found on the first floor of the Berwyn Public Library. Bright colored paper stuck to the wall with tape lit the room with color. Numbers displayed on one of the four walls. The smell of paper would travel through the air when other kids opened books with their parents. The library was my happy place.
By the time I was in the first grade, I had learned to read and speak English. I didn’t know how to write in English, but seeing the words in books helped me. I will admit that the process of keeping my Spanish alive and learning a new language wasn’t the easiest. When I turned eight years old, I had caught up with the material the students in English classes had obtained over the years. I was now bilingual. After the third grade, my elementary school didn’t offer Spanish-speaking classes anymore. By the time you reached the fourth grade, you had to know how to read, write, and speak in English – whether you were taking Spanish-speaking or English-speaking classes.
My mother would continue to take me to the library, but instead of it being just her and me, there were three of us. My baby sister was around now, and since I had been proclaimed a big sister, I convinced my mother on allowing me to get a library card to my name. We would use my mother’s library card when we checked out the twenty books, we would take home. My mother agreed and said if I was responsible enough to be a big sister, I was responsible enough to rent out my own books. We made our way to the front desk, where the librarian and my mother filled out the paperwork. Before handing me my library card, she told me to sign my name with the unique pen on the touch screen. When I signed, I wrote N-a-t-a-l-i-e Ramirez because that’s who I had become. Now, whenever someone spells my name as N-a-t-a-l-y, it doesn't bother me. When someone calls me Natalia, it doesn't bother me. I was once Nataly, and Nataly is a part of me. I am Nataly, Natalia, and Natalie... even if my birth certificate doesn’t quite show that. I am literate because I can comfortably express myself in languages that make me feel like me.