I Want an American Boy

Any man wants his son to be cut in his own image, a “chip off the old block” as we say in English. But when raising your boy in another country, how? How could C-Bass be a little Colin if he grows up in Peru?

I’ve met plenty of children raised by Latino-gringa and gringo-Latina couples. In my experience and as you would guess, the kids adopt the culture of the country where they grew up.

And that’s where I panic, because we plan to raise the boy in Lima. I picture my boy as one of these little pseudo-gringos and think, “Man, if he speaks English with an accent, watches soccer, or has long hair, it’d be like he’s not even my boy.”

I don’t want to live in America, but I do want an American boy. If he’s at Grandpa’s house and I tell him to cut the grass, I don’t want any lip about it. I don’t even want him to ask how to start the mower. I want him to be an old hand. I want a boy who can work on a crew of laborers and not be the wimp. I want a boy who plays American football, baseball, basketball, and hockey. Not a kid with the shoulders of a soccer player who falls and acts hurt when hit. And definitely no long hair and no “espeak Eeng-leesh” accent.

But if he grows up in Lima, he will think soccer is cool. That is unavoidable. And he probably will believe that boys like him (not starving son of gringo) are entitled not to cut grass. He might even disown the English language. How do you combat that?

But I don’t want everything about him to be American. I don’t want the insular mentality Americans have (see case study). The vast majority of my social and family networks in St. Louis live in their hometowns – many in the same zip codes. When I first moved to South America, people couldn’t believe it. Aside from the “You’ll get kidnapped” thing, people couldn’t understand why I’d move there, despite today’s reality of globalization. I want an American boy, but I also want a bicultural kid with a sense of the world at large. A kid whose dreams are global.

In world politics, you hear Europeans criticizing the Americans for being naive. Or unrealistically optimistic. When you’re an American following world politics, you think they’re losers. But when you live abroad for long enough, you start to see what they mean about Americans. I see it now, I get it. I see it in myself, at least myself before I’d been many places, and I don’t want it for my kid.

And before I start pounding into his brain how gay of a sport soccer is, I need to strategize how the boy will get into college. Assuming he’s a good athlete and student, there may be enough competition in Lima basketball for him to get good enough for a DIII scholarship … maybe. But there’s plenty of soccer. That’s really all there is, so competition’s fierce and players get good, at least compared to America, where nobody plays (no men anyway). So that’s the smart way for a LatAm-raised kid to pay for school – soccer scholarship. I knew loads of Latin students who got full rides in America that way.

As for English, that’s also tougher than it seems. Before he was born, I decided I’d speak ONLY English with him. But I doubt I’m the first one with that brilliant idea. And as soon as he was born I realized it’s a difficult commitment because many conversations include the boy’s mother. Even now, when he may not have any clue there are two different languages, I speak Spanish if his mother is in the conversation. When I need to speak to both of them, which is a lot more often than you’d think, I will probably speak Spanish. That means family conversations will be in Spanish unless I get Milagros to commit to my vision of an American boy. And this may be surprising, but Milagros is not 100% supportive of the American boy outlined in this article.



  1. My son was born 25 days ago on December 31st in Managua. Since his birth I have been too tired to think about my vision for how I would like him to grow up, but my wife has a 6-year old (from a previous marriage) and I see lots of traits in him that I would like to try to avoid in my son Dominic.

    Granted the 6-year old is a good kid, smart, talkative, really smart, actually, but he talks back to his mother and me like he is the boss of the house. I grew up in Texas and I learned at a very early age not to talk back. When my mother told me to finish my plate, I did it. There were no battles (not until I was a teenager, of course), and I don’t want any battles with my son.

    I too speak only English to him and, though I speak Spanish to my wife and stepson when I am talking to them 1:1, when Dominic is around I will speak English and casually repeat it in Spanish. The kid is not even a month old yet, but his family on my side have a right to speak with him, so he has to learn English. And hopefully the 6-year old and my wife will pick it up too.

    Not sold on college. I wanted to go to a technical school and my dad basically forced 4 years of university on me and I resisted, eventually dropping out before traveling. So no degree and no technical education. I do want my kids (I have a two-year old who lives with his mother in France…oops) to go on to higher education but I am just as content if they decide to get technical degrees or certification in a specialized area as I would be if they graduated from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas. What I will be sure to do is get them US passports to give them every opportunity they can get.

    I don’t give a shit about sports and if Dominic gets into soccer that’s fine. What I would like is to instill a true sense of adventure in him…the desire to go out and explore. I have trekked across some of the most remote areas in this country and adventured around the world, and all I want is for Dominc to have the desire to get out and move. Maybe it’ll be mountain climbing, diving or just soccer.

    As long as he doesn’t start hanging up posters, stickers and drawings of Messi all over the house, I am okay.


  2. Interesting topic. I want an American boy too, although I don’t know if I will be able to have any child yet.

    The boy has your genetics, which will help a lot, but I think parents don’t have much control over a child’s environment. His friends, his school, the culture he is immersed in, the extended family he spends time around, all will be very difficult to overcome with what attitudes you try to instill in him.

    To achieve what you want it would be better for him to grow up in the US, but failing that have him spend as much time in the US as possible- all the long school breaks.

    I think the US is declining in influence and this will continue, but to be American will still have more pull in the world than to be Latin American. Latin America is a lovely place with a lot of nice people but it is a cultural backwater.

    But, what do I know, I’m a chronic screw-up. Best of luck with your son.


  3. I live in the UK and my half Colombian son speaks Spanish pretty good for a 5 year old. With Skype and practise you should be able to to do it.


  4. He will have to spend a lot of time in the US, no 2 ways about it. And extended time, not just a week or 2 vacation. Summer vacations, christmas breaks, when ever he can.

    Speak english with him all the time. Get direct TV and watch american shows on television, watch football with him every Sunday. Watch basketball, baseball, etc. Have him watch american cartoons when he is young. Listen to american music, etc.

    I think the key is to start immediately. To be truly bilingual you have to start when he is young. To be truly bicultural you have to start when he is young. If there is any type of expat community where you will be living in Peru spend time around other americans, as long as they are not dickheads.

    I think it can be done, but no doubt it will not be easy. But with persistence and patience I do think it is possible. Best of luck with your new son and your new life.


  5. @ Casey – Those Texas values, which I’d rather call Heartland values, are exactly what I want for my boy. I expand on that in a forum thread here: http://forum.expat-chronicles.com/showthread.php?tid=4722

    And igual, I will not force college on my kids, but it’s a different ballgame in Latin America. Kids with any kind of means realize it’s a luxury and I don’t think many want to skip it. But we’ll see.

    @ Jim and Roy – Absolutely right the only way is spending extended periods in the United States. I’m thinking month-long and 2-month trips, but I also know plans change when it’s time to pay for them.

    @ David – Have you been able to keep him away from soccer? JK.


  6. Well I would rather that he played rugby, but football (not soccer) is more international and safer.
    Of course as a half Colombian he would easily be able to play international rugby – I don’t think competition for the Colombian team is very fierce.


  7. Well, just teach him how to smuggle some blow into the states like the old man did and he’ll be a chip off the ole block.


  8. @Colin, you are a good writer and a ballsy bloke with a keen eye for the sordid underbelly of Latin America, but you have missed the point on this one. You are making all the classic mistakes of your forefathers, and I am one of your expat forefathers. From Costa Rica there are a lot of us guys that have been rooting for you since the beginning of the Expat Chronicles in the hope that you were younger and more clever than we were. We thought that maybe you wouldn’t make our mistakes, but now it has come to this.
    I’ll try to keep this short. Being a tourist is different than being a traveler in that the tourist always goes home. The traveler is a perpetual expat. I got to Costa Rica in 1991. Like you, I married a latina and in 1998 had a son. I went through all the same moves that you are going through, and the ones that are just around the corner for you. At this point I would like to suggest you read Sam Harris’ book called Free Will, and then read Daniel C. Dennett’s commentary, but I digress. Like it or not, Determinism is at work in your situation. If you keep insisting on “An American Boy”, you will get to find out about international divorce, endless legal bills, a furious latina wife (something you already know) and anxiety and stress in proportions you can not now imagine.

    No matter where you live, Peru or Peoria, your boy is going to be your boy. He is going to grow up with the influence of his Latina mother and there’s nothing that can change that. He is going to be a wise ass in both Spanish and English, so get ready.

    Bottom line, don’t force the situation. The minute your wife wants to head south, pack up your family and go. Guys like you belong down here with the rest of us anyway!

    Let the stereotypes go. I for one would like to see you get back to reporting on street activity in Colombia. I have pals in Cali, Panama and Granada, Nicaragua but you are a better writer.

    In closing, get over your big white gringo ass and get back down here and get to work writing!


  9. I wouldn’t worry too much about the no-accent English thing. I myself speak English and French with no accent, probably because I was taught both at the same time as a young child, so I know it’s possible and even easy to speak more than one language without an accent. I would speak only English at home and French at school and with friends.

    I am expecting a little boy too (our first child). My husband and I are living in Colombia, but like you we also want our baby to speak all three languages without an accent, to be open-minded, know both cultures, etc. (I don’t care about sports). The plan is that I will stay with the child at home until he is old enough to go to school. I will speak French at home when we are alone, English when we are the three of us together (my husband speaks perfect English, albeit with an accent), and Spanish when he is alone with his father or outside the house.

    Also, about Colombian men being “weak,” I think it depends. My husband is from a “high estrato” family, and we certainly have friends and family members who fit your description, who regard any kind of manual work with disdain. You also have to extend this attitude to the women as well.

    Many colombianas have asked me if I intended to have the baby by c-section or “naturally.” I was kind of shocked the first time I got asked this question, it seems like pretty personal decision to me, but so many women asked me this! Also, I thought everyone knew (or at least the women knew) that a c-section carries many disadvantages for the baby and the mother, so it should really only be done if it is medically necessary. In Colombian higher circles, this is not the way many women think. Somehow, a woman’s body doing what it was designed to do is seen as something for lower classes only. Many if not most women elect to have their babies by c-section. For example, my sister-in-law elected to have her son by c-section AND she did it a month before the baby was actually due, because her doctor was leaving on vacation! (Yes, the poor child is sickly.) Another colombiana, when I told her that I was (obviously) going to choose the “natural” route, was in shock and went on to try convince me for like 20 minutes why this was bad. She actually said, “I am smart, so listen to me.” I think your post on how latinos don’t read explains this unbelievable attitude. It seems impossible to me that anyone who has read even a little bit on this subject could arrive at that conclusion and be so oblivious to scientific facts. Many women also regard breastfeeding and taking care of their babies as lower class.

    Anyway, not everyone is like that. Many people in my husband’s family (including my husband himself) are extremely hard-working, caring and modest people. My husband used to hang around the comunas growing up and practiced street fighting as a sport. Even today many of his friends are from lower estratas. I know that he wouldn’t let his son grow up to become a wimp that can’t even give his car an oil change. So all of this to say, Colin, that I think that as long as you instil good values in your son, you have nothing to worry about. A son looks up to his father too much to be able to brush aside everything he taught him (unless exceptional circumstances).


  10. You want your son to have the best, in your opinion, that both the US and Latin America has to offer. The first thing that you worry about, of course, is language. Often times it is downright hard to have your kid be bilingual. I went through a weird period, where I was bilingual growing up in Mexico with a preference for English (thanks to gringa mother and satellite channels), to being monolingual after having moved up to the US having forgotten Spanish, and then being forced to become bilingual again in Mexico and relearning Spanish. In my experience, the mother has a lot of influence over what the child speaks. The first couple of years the child will easily switch between all the languages spoken in the household, and then eventually move on to one preferred language. I moved to the US with a preference for English and only moving back as a pre-teen to Mexico shocked me into learning the language again. I definitely did not like moving back and forth, but it definitely forced to become truly bilingual. In this day and age though with how easy communication is online, the way to truly engage and keep children bilingual is to keep in touch frequently with family living abroad, whether it is online, or even moving back and forth. As for what you want to teach your son when it comes to values, look at your past experience and lifestyle and at those around you, and it will help you figure out what you want to emphasize and what not to. It doesn’t mean that the kid will eventually set out on the path you wish them to, but in the process of raising kids, aim to do the best.


  11. A friend of mine has a daugher (3 years old) who speaks 4 languages fluently. Mother is Lebanese/Hungarian, father is Swedish. She speaks Arabic with the mother/grandparents. Father/grandparents speak only Swedish to her. The mother and father speak English together, and their live-in nanny speaks only Hungarian to her.

    I speak both English and Swedish fluently and this girl speaks both flawlessly (no accent). I’m unsure of the other languages but I would assume she is equally proficient with all. The key is immersion at a young age and making sure hold true to your initial ideas–ie speaking only English your son. He will be eternally grateful later in life when he speaks native fluent English.

    On the other hand, a friend of mine’s son is 16 years old. The son grew up with the mother in the States, while the father has been traveling around, but is a native Swede. The son understands Swedish but speaks very very poorly. When he was very young, he could apparently speak fluent Swedish, but lack of exposure has changed that over the years. At this point, the son and father speak English together as the son has a hard time communicating in Swedish.


  12. My dad and mother speak different languages. Now many years later they understand the others language but never speak it. Us kids speak to our parents in two languages.

    Growing up in a household like this. I’m still not perfectly bilingual. While I understand both perfectly well, I got an accent and bad vocabulary in my fathers language.

    What matters most is the language at school, that of friends, and the mothers tongue of siblings.

    If the only person in his world that speaks English to him is you. I think he will struggle with speaking English well as an adult. Unless you get your kid into an English speaking school and get him English speaking friends, I think you will just have to accept it.

    On contradictory note. I learned English from movies, without anybody to speak it with. I consider myself fluent now. So, getting your son non-dubbed and non-subtitled English language movies, and books … might go a long way.

    Just my 2 cents.


  13. We raise our kids in the U.S. because I like the culture better, but we bought a place in Bogota recently for a sense of home when we’re there. The kids spend summer with the wife’s folks in Colombia, and other times with our folks down in the Southeast. We’re both bilingual, and our plan is to speak Spanish only in the house, and English every else …. so far, so good.

    I also think soccer is gay, and most Bogotanos are soft. The coast is awesome, and I would live there full-time if I could.

    Good luck!


  14. Colin, I’ve solved this problem. I have had a boy in America. Come home and be re-indoctrinated and bask in our perpetual superiority.



  15. Unless you have some statistics to prove that soccer has more homosexual players than other sports, you need to stop calling it gay. You think Americans are insular…well you just proved it with how you act and speak. Call soccer lame, crappy, etc. Don’t be so backwards and provincial in your descriptions.


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