PILSEN — A Chicago native and mother of two is opening a playroom and language learning center on the Southwest Side dedicated to helping parents raise kids to speak both English and Spanish.
Vanessa Avalos is the owner of Luna y Cielo Play, a bilingual playroom that offers “culturally relevant play” and Spanish lessons to kids of all age levels. Avalos has been offering the classes and playtimes since April out of a temporary spot in Pilsen, but is hoping to secure a permanent location in Pilsen or Little Village as soon as possible.
Avalos said she’s a second generation Mexican-American, born in Texas and raised in Logan Square. She said she wished she had learned Spanish as a kid, feeling like there was a connection to her culture and heritage missing.
“My dad taught me the importance of loving our culture,” she said. “He gave me the love for Vicente Fernandez, and I danced folklórico when I was younger, so I’ve always loved my culture, I just didn’t have the language.”
When Avalos and her husband had kids, she said it was really important to them both to pass that love of their Mexican-American culture to their kids.
“I made that my mission to make sure that they were bilingual because I didn’t have that opportunity, and, you know, we always want better for our kids,” Avalos said.
Avalos, who lives in Berwyn now, said the family commutes to Pilsen so she can send her daughter to a dual language school there, and she’s always looking for Spanish classes or Spanish story-time events for her younger son.
Connecting with other Latino parents and parents of Latino kids through social media made Avalos realize how difficult it can be to raise bilingual kids if you don’t have access to the resources and opportunities out there, she said.
“I noticed all these [parents], they kept asking, ‘How do you get your children to become bilingual?'” Avalos said. “And I realized that was an issue. Not everyone could get into the dual language schools.”
In 2019, the idea for Luna y Cielo Play was born, Avalos said. The pandemic slowed plans down, but she said the delay gave her extra time to polish her business plan and take advantage of grants and resources for small business owners.
Through connections with moms on a social media, Avalos said she’s been able to hold playtime and classes at a temporary location in Pilsen since April.
Avalos said the reaction she’s gotten from parents has been incredibly positive and proves that there’s a void she’s hoping to fill with Luna y Cielo Play.
“There’s a problem, and I can solve that,” Avalos said. “People are coming from all over, and their feedback has just been, like, ‘I wish more of you existed.'”
Avalos said she hopes Luna y Cielo Play helps kids love and embrace whatever cultures they come from, and they never have to struggle with feeling like they’re not “enough” of anything.
“We all have our own journeys, like our families migrating to this country, and we need to not judge people’s journeys,” Avalos said. “We don’t need to hear, ‘You’re not Latina enough, you’re not Latino enough.’ We are all enough in our ways, and that’s all that matters, right?”
To find updates and classes from Luna y Cielo Play, you can follow its social media page here.
Anyone interested in donating to Luna y Cielo Play’s crowdfunding campaign through IFundWomen can find the link here.
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