In 2018, Producer Jeanne Montalvo was a new mother looking back at all the decisions her parents made when raising her. Namely, the differences in how Jeanne and her brother looked at and embraced the Spanish language. So, to understand and better inform her own parenting decisions, she reported on her family’s choice to teach her children Spanish.
Five years later, Jeanne’s oldest, Martin, just finished kindergarten, and her youngest is a talking toddler — both commanding the Spanish language. But Martin, who was 2.5 years old when New York City shut down during the pandemic, was thrust back home after six months of preschool. When the family eventually came out of seclusion, Martin did not speak English.
Jeanne and her husband, Ernesto, didn’t really hesitate to put him into daycare in English since Jeanne grew up in a bilingual home. But Martin struggled. Despite an understanding with the daycare that Martin only spoke Spanish, the school’s administration suggested he might be on the spectrum due to some of his behavior. The family was surprised as they never anticipated anyone questioning their bilingualism in a multicultural bubble like New York. After speaking with doctors and psychologists, Jeanne found it is actually quite common for children who do not speak English to be misdiagnosed and put into special education — something that began many decades ago.
In this follow up, Latino USA takes a look at the school system in New York City and its history as Jeanne navigated through it with a toddler who did not speak English. We see how the city arrived at bilingual education and how that quest for information made Jeanne feel less alone as she found solidarity in the ghosts of New York City’s past.
Featured illustration by Jeanne Montalvo Lucar.
Latino USA is celebrating 30 years, 30 años, and we would love to hear from our listeners. Would you share with us your favorite Latino USA episode? Maybe it’s the one you remember the most, the one that kept you company during a road trip or the one you most shared with others. Or maybe you just have a birthday wish for us. Please leave us a voicemail at 646-571-1224 and we might feature your message in an upcoming show. Gracias.