Spanish has a very complicated history in the United States. Particularly, Latine have been (and continue to be) oppressed and discriminated against only because they speak this language. In 1918, for example, it was illegal to speak any language other than English in public schools in states such as Texas.
These laws were enforced in different parts of the country until the United States Congress passed the Bilingual Education Act in 1968. However, the negative repercussions are still experienced today. One of them is the fear of some people to teach Spanish from an early age.
We recently spoke to Ronit Shiro, Latina founder of Feppy Box, who promotes bilingualism through children’s entertainment. This type of initiative normalizes and celebrates being able to speak more than one language, thus helping Latine communities in the United States overcome the trauma inflicted by many generations.
Who are you, and what led you to create Feppy Box?
I am Venezuelan. I am currently living in the United States. I have vast experience in marketing, entertainment, and children’s education. One of my last jobs was in a company in what we call “educament,” here in the United States. It was mostly bilingual content. In that job, we realized there was a large and essential need for bilingual entertainment.
And when I say “bilingual,” I make this point above all [because] it is an aspect vital of our product: It is not a product to learn Spanish. There are many products to learn another language; this is a bilingual product. I like to explain the difference because, for example, if we have a couple and they don’t both speak Spanish, the one that does not speak Spanish will not feel comfortable having a product entirely in Spanish. So for us, it was an effort and a highlight to create this product 100% bilingual.
Then we realized that there was an opportunity. If you also add that most bookstores and toy stores are closing, parents are having a hard time searching and getting appropriate content. That experience of going to the bookstore searching and seeing it no longer exists. Parents told us, “I want to expose them [to Spanish], but I don’t even know where to start looking.” We function like a mom that recommends things to do.
What exactly is a Feppy Box?
[The product] is a subscription box that comes to your home once a month, and the contents of the box are all bilingual. So if the family doesn’t speak even a word of Spanish, you will still be able to enjoy, entertain, and learn from these contents. If the parents do speak Spanish and want to expose the child to their language, it is even more fun. It is also easy to use if a father, for example, speaks English and the mother speaks Spanish.
One of the essential elements of our box is the story. The first story [from Feppy Box] is called La Abuela Karateka. All the stories are original. As a mom, I realized that I always ended up changing the ending of stories because I didn’t like them. For me, we needed books for children with humor and teach them values without necessarily indoctrinating them in that whole “this is what has to be done” while being 100% bilingual. All books are written on one side in Spanish and on one side in English. So, if you are a mom who speaks entirely in English, you can read it to your children in English. Or maybe the dad reads it to the children in Spanish or even a caregiver. And that’s where the magic of bilingualism really happens.
The principle on which we base our purpose is that children learn while having fun. All boxes are fun. This is not a curricular program. This is for children up to 5 or 6 years old, for parents to expose them to their second language, but in a fun way. [In the box] you have stories, music, and activities. Each box revolves around a theme. Through repetition, they hear the story, the song; they play the activities — immersion in bilingualism occurs.
Was the Feppy Box concept born before or during the COVID-19 pandemic?
It’s very interesting because we were almost ready to launch [Feppy Box] before the pandemic. When the pandemic started, we realized some things were not ready yet. But we had an [large] amount of material and information, and there was an [large] amount of children in their houses not doing anything. We quickly adjusted and created a virtual box, a digital box that we give away to everyone. And coincidentally, the story that we gave away, which was magical, is called El Sol Ahumado. This was the first story that was already in production, and it is about a Sun that got sick from the pollution and had to wear a mask, and wow, it was an incredible coincidence.
What we did was pack it all up digitally and give it away through our Web page. The feedback we received was super positive. It was a preview until we had everything ready and could actually launch [Feppy Box].
Why do you think it is so important to interact in Spanish from childhood, especially for someone of Latine descent growing up in the U.S.?
Look, we did a lot of research and, wherever you investigate, you will see — this is scientifically proven — that children’s brains at early ages work in a very flexible way, like a sponge. They unconsciously absorb both languages. They absorb sounds, words and they put those sounds and phrases in order. So from the point of view of child development, this is the best age to learn a second language. From a cognitive point of view, it has many advantages. It has been shown that bilingual children have multitasking abilities, are more creative, and learn to structure things differently.
We also gave great importance to the social-emotional part. While knowing another language and communicating with the family, we also saw the cultural connection and the opportunities the child will have when he grows up. We live in a very globalized world. The fact that a person speaks more than one language opens up limitless job opportunities.