She’s a singer, songwriter, TED Talker, Twitch Partner. She’s performed at Carnegie Hall, been featured in an Ariana Grande music video, and acted in several films.
She studied violin and piano before she was 5 and learned Flamenco dancing—in Spain—when she was 5. Oh, and she started her YouTube channel then, too.
But for the editorial team of Steve’s book, America’s Bilingual Century, the most knock-it-out-of-the-park achievement of this 20-year-old California-born phenom is that’s she’s fluent in both Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.
For the final chapter of the audiobook version of Steve’s book, hers is the female voice you hear. She’s Heavenly. The capital H is intentional: meet Heavenly Reyna.
The voice of Emma, and America’s linguistic future
In Chapter 47, the concluding chapter of his book, Steve invites readers to imagine what America’s linguistic landscape might look and sound like a generation from now. Into this imagined multilingual scenario comes Emma, a college student who guides the reader through an America as it could be. In Steve’s vision, that America would be one where bilingualism comes at an early age.
It did for Heavenly.
“My dad is third-generation American but his heritage is 100 percent Spanish/Mexican,” she told us. “He learned Spanish from his grandmother, who never learned English. It was a challenge for him to only speak Spanish to me, but that’s what he did.”
And the Mandarin Chinese?
“My mom says I started both Spanish and Mandarin in the womb,” Heavenly says with a smile, “and that I was quite fluent in Mandarin by the time I was 2. I picked it up again when I was 8, and was fully immersed in it when my family moved to Malaysia two years later,” she explained. In fact, her first singing gig was in Mandarin, for a wedding.
Ah, so her parents’ work took them overseas, you might surmise.
Both of Heavenly’ s parents actually retired when she was 5, in a most unretiring way. They sold their house, their car, and most of their possessions, and embarked on a decade-long, 48-country travel odyssey with their daughter.
Heavenly received a mix of home and traditional schooling wherever the family landed. She graduated, with CTY honors, from Johns Hopkins University’s program for gifted high school students when she was 14 (CTY stands for Center for Talented Youth). Then she promptly started college in California.
But despite a list of accomplishments that make Taylor Swift seem like a slacker, Heavenly had never recorded an audiobook—until she became the voice of Emma in America’s Bilingual Century.
Already a seasoned singer and songwriter, Heavenly attributes her many opportunities to being bilingual, in Spanish and Mandarin.
The first recipient of a Big Three Citation
When an America’s Bilingual Century editorial team member suggested they break with the audiobook’s male narrator and use a female voice for Emma, another team member recommended Heavenly.
Her voice, the team decided, would work well with Sean Pratt’s, the award-winning narrator who recorded the entirety of the audiobook. (Check out Episodes 47 through 49 of the America the Bilingual podcast, which feature different chapters of the audiobook, to hear some of Sean’s masterly performance.)
In the print and e-book versions of America’s Bilingual Century, Emma explains that she plans to graduate with a Jefferson Citation, certifying that she’s fluent in French and Spanish (languages that Thomas Jefferson championed). The editorial team tweaked that for the audiobook version, to align with Heavenly’s Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.
“Those languages are actually part of the original narrative as well,” said Steve. “Along with English, they form what I called the Big Three Citation. So it was a serendipitous swap. It also meant that for the audiobook, we could have Emma/Heavenly speak some additional lines in both languages.”
Art does, indeed, imitate life—in any language. Just listen: https://soundcloud.com/americathebilingual/abc-chapter47-emmaclip
‘Opportunities are endless’
“I really loved being part of this great book,” Heavenly said. “Growing up as a trilingual with Spanish and Mandarin has enriched my life in endless ways, and I am so very grateful my parents took the time to give these languages to me. Since neither of my parents were native or bilingual speakers of either language, they had to work hard and be creative to give them to me. Now I am singing songs in all three languages on Twitch and TikTok, and am about to release songs I wrote in Mandarin, Spanish and English.”
And one more thing: Heavenly has just been asked to do a TV show in China. “I feel like my opportunities are endless thanks to my languages,” Heavenly said. “They allow me to connect deeply with so many people on our beautiful planet. ”
When you come to the final chapter of America’s Bilingual Century and Steve invites you to imagine what America might sound like in the future, just think of Heavenly, and you’re there.
May 20, 2021
The “wall of the world” in her bedroom holds memories of the many places in the world Heavenly has visited and lived in.