Bilingual SLP Interview: Soy Mexicana Americana, My Roots Run Deep
By Raquel Martinez Suh MA, CCC-SLP
As part of Hispanic Heritage Month, we wanted to close the celebration by sharing the experiences of a Latina SLP in her path of growing up bilingual and bicultural and becoming a bilingual speech and language pathologist. Raquel Martinez Suh has work experience as a bilingual language pathologist for over ten years. Her experience includes Texas and California public schools, adult rehab, adult inpatient/outpatient, peds outpatient, peds/adult home health and acute care. Read our interview with her below:
How has being bilingual and bicultural positively impacted your professional career and personal life?
Being Latina runs deep in my roots. It carries a complex explanation because of its own diversity in relation to ones’ experiences. My experience as a Latina has encompassed a bilingual and bicultural upbringing. Spanish and English were readily used – interchangeably – around me and bicultural because I was never “fully” Latina or “fully” American. Soy Mexicana Americana, which is a win-win. I had access to two cultures: my Mexican home/family culture and my American school/community culture. Both helped mold me into the speech-language pathologist and the person I am today.
How has being Latina shaped the professional you became after grad school?
As a bilingual SLP, my warm Latin culture has allowed me to bring a much-needed tenderness to my bilingual clients, both the parents and their children. As an SLP, you are not formally taught how to approach a nervous, self-blaming parent. In my years as an SLP there have been many times where I have had to have the “parent talk,” where there is zero judgement. Where you listen and give them a safe place to feel – bringing them reassurance that they are exactly where they need to be by simply stating “I am here to help.” Moreover, giving them a sense of connection by letting them know that I am bilingual/bicultural with my warm undertones. But more importantly that they are part of the team that is going to help put together a plan that will benefit their child. All in all, doing it by using my tender informalities that I attribute to my warm Latin culture of endless hugs, comfort foods and generational wealth. The wealth of knowing how to be inclusive and fair in a diverse world.
On the other hand, in my personal life, knowing the positives of being bilingual and bicultural came at a slower pace. It was a slower pace because for much of my school years I tried to blend in with my peers. Being raised in a small, rural Texas town where you were the majority but felt like the minority brought on many challenges and valuable lessons. You didn’t want to be too Mexican or too American either. Early on my father shared his own personal experiences of generational oppression that quickly translated to grit, pride and passion which are deeply rooted in me. Grit because when I put my mind to something I deliver, pride because I am very proud of my ancestral roots and passion because I have a strong desire to make a difference, as an individual and in my profession.
In this slow-paced awakening of being bilingual and bicultural, it took an overview of key components that would help solidify the positive. The positive in having grit, being proud and showing passion. When I look back at my early years, I find it interesting how a teacher ever so brilliantly convinced my parents that Rachel was just as good as Raquel. Yes, in 2nd grade I became Rachel, and it wasn’t until college that I reclaimed Raquel. I know, I know! You may ask yourself why does this specific experience matter? It matters because I realize that early on, I didn’t know that I needed to be overtly proud or show how grit and passion were connected to my roots as a Latina. I was too busy “blending in.” Looking back, these strong attributes have taught me the importance of advocating for oneself and for one another. It has helped shape me as an individual and has molded me into the bilingual SLP I am today.
More importantly it taught me about the most important relationship, the one with myself and my identity as a Latina. Later this would emerge and highlight the importance of relationships, both personally and professionally. My own Latin family dynamics and my Latin community taught me how you treat and help one another matters. Even in graduate school this lesson was retaught. A professor once shared how our clients’ outcomes rely heavily on how you make them feel and how you treat them, especially in the geriatric population. To date I have learned that having positive relationships with your clients, colleagues and mentors can only procure positive outcomes. I advocate for all my clients with the same grit, pride and passion that came from my Latin roots of generations past.
What advice would you give latinx SLP students that are starting their career?
To those of you that are just starting your careers, you are the fresh new faces of our profession. Know that there is opportunity. Opportunity for innovation and opportunity to make a difference in whatever sector you belong such as schools, outpatient/inpatient, rehab, hospitals and private practice. As you encounter the challenges that we continue to face as bilingual SLPs including standardized tests, collaboration, diagnostic/treatment practices, and cultural implications, I encourage you to stay true to the practice in everything you do. Collaborate but challenge one another by staying true to the profession, being mindful of what we stand for and remembering why we do what we do.