Raising Multi-lingual Children and Keeping Culture Alive with Chitra Pena


Growing up with a rich Gujarati culture filled with family, love, and tradition has helped shape my character and enrich my world view. As such, well before I became a mother, I knew it was very important to me that one day my children learned about both of their parents’ heritage. Culture is deeply personal, layered, and complex and for me, one of my strongest connections to Gujarati culture is through language.

As Gujarati was regularly spoken in my childhood home, I spoke it so readily that I wasn’t concerned about passing it on to my kids. What I worried about most was how I would teach them Spanish when I wasn't fluent and neither was my Puerto Rican husband! Then a funny thing happened: I moved away from NJ when my older daughter was 7 months old and was left as the only Gujarati speaker in her daily life. I started to struggle with talking to her in Gujarati because it would exclude my non-Gujarati speaking husband. I desperately wanted to create a way to make learning Gujarati easier for both of them.  


Board books are some of children’s first early learning tools and I decided that I wanted to help fill the gap in Gujarati books for primarily English speaking children - something I had noticed was missing over 10 years ago when my oldest nephew was born.  I had played with the idea for so long, but I had no excuse to talk myself out of it this time. I had to do it for my daughters (and my nephews...and my husband!). So in 2019, I self-illustrated, authored, and published the first ever bilingual Gujarati primers. As my children grew, I observed the ways in which they most strongly connected with their environment and grew my Gujarati collection with wooden toys, posters, stickers and more. I aimed to create learning tools that organically draw children in and provide multiple layers of value - teaching them language and so much more in a joyful, practical, and pressure-free way. 


When we can pass the ability to speak to and understand our elders down to our children we open up doors to our pasts and ensure that they remain open for generations to come. We are giving our children a glimpse into the depths of centuries old wisdom. Language is one of the ultimate connectors across generations, and across oceans, and it's up to us to keep our native tongues alive. 

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