Is "culture" really necessary to biracial/bicultural children? - Mothering Forums

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Old 04-06-2005, 02:53 AM - Thread Starter
 
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My dh is from India and is Hindu. I am Hindu at heart but don't practice much since dd was born. We both practice the values of a Hindu household (ahimsa, being vegetarian, trying to live an honest life).

Dh and I had planned on raising our kids as Hindu and to learn some Tamil (dh's language). Neither has worked out. Dh has not taken the effort to teach them his language and I've tried and failed to learn it myself. So that's that. I have also given him the go ahead to teach her Hindu culture and religion, take her to temple and so on. Again he doesn't have the time.

These things used to be very important to both of us and we shook our heads at parents who didn't instill these things in theor children. And here we are doing the same thing. Abi and I colored Easter eggs last month! Something I never thought I'd do, but I admit we had fun.

Our kids are Americans first, not Indians. But I know that within America are many parents who have strong cultural values and manage to pass it on to their children. I admire you. I'm just not so sure we are going to be that kind of family. Life gets busy, things get pushed aside. It doesn't seem that important to my dh to pass these things on.

I'm not sure sure that my children will grow up confused in any way, but that's often the fear-- that they won't have an identity, will be neither here nor there. In India they have a term ABCD- American Born Confused Desi for kids like mine. Somehow I just can't see my dds as being confused as long as they have certain values in their hearts-- do they really need to identify with a group?

I'd love to hear from parents of older biracial and/or bicultural children.

Thanks!
Darshani

7yo: "Mom,I know which man is on a quarter and which on is on a nickel. They both have ponytails, but one man has a collar and the other man is naked. The naked man was our first president."
 
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Old 04-06-2005, 09:42 AM
 
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Teaching your children about their culture does not mean you have to teach them another language to understand it. It is very hard to learn another language out of context, such as learning tamil when no one else around them is speaking it. Children that are bilingual are raised hearing both languages; they need to hear both to learn how to form the word sounds. Maybe you could participate in clubs (here we have an Indian students organization), temple, or even eating out at a good Indian restaurant that starts to infuse some of the Indian culture they may not otherwise experience in the US. Sounds like you have started some good traditions.
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Old 04-06-2005, 12:12 PM
 
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Just because they aren't learning that much about their father's culture of origin doesn't mean they don't have culture.

American culture is much maligned, but it IS still culture. Coloring easter eggs and speaking English are cultural activities as surely as going to Temple and speaking Tamil.

Not belonging to one of the many SUBcultures within the lumpy American "melting pot" doesn't mean one has no culture! And being biracial is, frankly, as American as pizza!

If you're concerned about raising her in a more spiritual tradition, could you take her to temple yourself? Do you have other relatives in the area who are more spiritually minded that could step in and help--grandparents, perhaps? If they're far away, could you "adopt" some older person or couple as surrogate grandparents who come from your DH's culture but live near you?

breastfeeding, babywearing, homeschooling Heathen parent to my little Wanderer, 7 1/2 , and baby Elf-stone, 3/11!

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Old 04-06-2005, 12:32 PM
 
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I can't speak to this issue as a parent, but my husband is a bi-racial adult. My husband's mother is Japanese, and she didn't spend a lot of time teaching him Japanese traditions, nor did she teach him the language or religion. Like you, she raised her children as Americans first. I don't think this has caused any confusion in my husband. He sees himself as an American, just like me.

Unless you live in a community where there are many people who share and Indian/Hindu culture, I think attempts to teach the culture and language might seem out of context for your children. I also think that they will pick up on a lot of Indian/Hindu culture just by being in a family with an Indian/Hindu father. If you eat Indian food or frequent and Indian market, that is part of their culture. If they hear their father speaking in his language, they will pick up a little of it, even if it is only a familiarity with the sounds and rhythms.

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I'm not sure sure that my children will grow up confused in any way, but that's often the fear-- that they won't have an identity, will be neither here nor there.
I understand the fear, but I think they will have an identity as Americans. There are millions of us, and we're not confused . It sounds like you're doing a great job.

Carrie
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Old 04-06-2005, 12:39 PM
 
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Okay. I am multiracial/cultural myself, and married to a very German (PA Dutch) man.

I grew up Jewish and American, with no knowledge or understanding of any of the other cultures that make me who I am. I'll be honest: it screwed me up. All I knew was that I didn't look like other kids who spoke like I did, and didn't speak like the kids who looked like I did (Puerto Rican; I'm not, but in the neighborhood I grew up in, most people who looked like me were).

It is true that it's more important for kids to have something in their hearts and minds than a particular culture to cling to, however it's important for them to understand that they do in fact belong to a culture other than that of their peers ("I'm a girl, I'm a child," etc).

Next year, I am going to talk to my husband about enrolling BeanBean in Jewish religious school classes (Saturday or Sunday morning). For now, we go to Friday night services whenever we can (not often enough ) and we go to First Day Meeting at a Quaker Meeting House whenever we can (also, not often enough, but we're making an effort). As far as black culture... well, truth be told I don't know too much about it, but I'm learning. I need to know more about where I came from. BeanBean and BooBah both look very white (though BeanBean could pass for nearly anything else; BooBah looks decidedly German) but BeanBean can tell you that he's mixed and mommy is mixed, too. Right now, it doesn't mean much to him, but I'm planting the seeds.

There is a growing "multiracial culture" movement right now; loads of students who felt like they were being forced to choose one thing or another have decided that it ought to mean something to say "I'm mixed!" other than "I don't know if I'm x or y." It's brilliant! I used to have a whole collection of links, but my hardrive has fried between now and then. You can look over the MAVIN Foundation website for links & thoughts on the mixed race experience. It's fun stuff.

If you're concerned, I recommend that you:

a)Make sure to talk to your daughters about race, culture, and religion. Maintaining an open dialog can work wonders.

b)Decide what's really important to you and your family. Sit down with your husband and voice your concerns, and decide together what you think is important. Maybe you'd like for the girls to speak Tamil, but if it's not all that high on either of your priority lists, it's not going to happen. Do you want the girls to learn more about their religion and culture now, to be immersed in it while they're young, or is it okay to wait until they're a little older and ask for it? Sort through these things. Then, make a concerted effort to do the things that you two both agree are important, and let the rest slide for now. The girls will appreciate that they grew up with *something*, no matter how much you give them.

Rynna, Mama to Bean (8), Boobah (6), Bella (4) and Bear (2)
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Old 04-06-2005, 01:02 PM
 
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I think eilonwy wrote a good post.

I think how important it for the child depends on how important it is to the parents. I also think the North American experience of partciular races and cultures dictate how important an understanding of a particular culture is to a child, cause it provides a framework or background for current experiences.

For example, DS in Aboriginal like his dad (DP). It's very impotant given the history of forced assimilation that DS knows where he came from and why DP does certain things and the political movement behind some of it. Culture and preserving it is very important to DP and will be passed on to DS. If we didn't do this, DS would get from the dominant culture a bunch of lies and that might confuse him cause that's not what dad says (ie., if he were going to school he would learn in math about wampum being a currency - that's even taught at our mint. But that's not true. Wampum was never currency.) and he would grow to aid in the assimilation of his Nation, without even being conscious of the aid.

So DS knows he's haudenosaunee and is a part f a community here where we live and with DP's family when we visit. We also try to make it to the reserve once a year and we talk about what reserves mean and show him the land DP's grandfather and grandmother owned and farmed. He will grow up understanding what the land means and how it has changed and his place in that story.

Again, I think it depends on how important it is to the parent(s).
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Old 04-06-2005, 02:59 PM
 
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I was a bi-cultural child. I do feel rooted here in the UK & identify as British perfectly happily (I grew up predominantly here, & my mother is British) but I still feel that I have lost part of my culture, part of my identity. I would love to have more. It's a strange loss. In some ways, despite my security in this country, I feel like an exile. It's indefinable.

As NurturingMama said, they will pick up an awful lot from their father, & from their grandparents (I read your post about their long visits!). Culture transfers by osmosis in many ways.
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Old 04-06-2005, 03:03 PM
 
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(Warning - I am using the term "culture" loosely here.)

I think introducing the other culture as much as possible is important. I grew up bilingual in the US speaking Latvian at home and immersed in the local Latvian-American community. It is definitely a major part of who I am, and I am trying to pass that on to my kids to the point of making financial sacrifices to do so (we helped start a Latvian-language preschool). For a small (in numbers) culture like ours, the language is essential to participating in the culture and we have to introduce it in the family because there are no classes, but for Tamil, which has many more speakers, there will probably be other opportunities to learn the language - at temple, during visits, even in college perhaps, etc. People have told me my entire life how lucky I am that my parents passed on their culture to me. Many people wish their families had done the same.

The thing is that you can introduce aspects of the culture easily through everyday activities. Here are some ideas:

* If you do TV, find kids' programs/movies from India that your girls might like to watch. Story tapes, music CDs, books, and magazines are also good and things that grandparents like to send! Even if they're in Tamil, the kids can look at the pictures - maybe your DH can translate some of the text while reading to them. Most large cities have Indian video stores - do they have a kids' section? Music has been important to me in teaching my girls Latvian - can your DH sing some Tamil songs to them? (Believe me, I'm no singer, but they love it anyway.)

* The same goes for Hindu religious ideas - does the temple have a kids' program? Could the grandparents get the kids coloring books with Hindu stories or kids' books about Hinduism to start introducing the ideas? Could you create some with your favorite stories? Could you tell these stories as bedtime stories? Can you celebrate the Hindu holidays alongside things like Easter? For example, we color traditional Latvian eggs as well as the usual ones and celebrate Easter as the coming of spring in the Latvian tradition. We also celebrate purely Latvian holidays, like the summer solstice (there are special traditions associated with that).

* I have seen people learning foreign languages put up Post-It notes around the house with the words for common household objects on them. You could learn along with the girls that way. We try to make dinnertime family Latvian-speaking time - my DH can speak some and that way he's forced to try to speak at least part of the time.

* If there is a community around the temple, can you start a Tamil playgroup? Our fulltime Latvian preschool started as a playgroup that met once a week rotating around different members' houses.

Just some ideas - this can be a really fun thing to do!

Mom "D" to DD1 "Z" (15) and DD2 "I" (11) DH "M"

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Old 04-06-2005, 03:50 PM
 
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My dh is Greek, and his family has a strong greek culture. We are working to instill that culture in dd, but it is a struggle because we are *not* orthodox Christians (or even Christians). I still want to pass on the culture without indoctinating the religion....but all of the cultural "classes" (language, dancing) are thru the church. This presents a problem....

Anyway, my dh has also failed to teach dd to speak Greek. Frustrating. She knows some words/phrases, but not much. I have gotten him to sing to her in Greek, and that is really helping. She loves to sing the songs, and picks them up much more quickly than me. The sounds are easier for her. This is great, imo, even if she does not yet understand the words, because she in learning the basic sounds of the language at a young age.

One thing we've done well with is....FOOD! Dd loves her greek food, and she knows which foods are greek. She knows that these are "her foods", and she likes to share these foods with her/our friends. She makes me laugh, because once she said that a (grown) friend could not say "spanakopita" correctly because she is not greek, and dd is
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Old 04-06-2005, 05:15 PM
 
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I am a mixed adult, all american mid west on one side and mexican on the other. My dh is the same. I'd say we aren't screwed up or confused (now) by identity, but we both wish our fathers had put in a little more effort at teaching us Spanish and mexican culture. Ironically, in some ways, my dad did pass on his specific culture to me-- 1st generation mexican man in the 60's -- he married a white lady, named his kids american names and spoke English. I think my lack of cultural heritage is my cultural heritage .

If you are interested, there are so many books out there right now about the experience of mixed race people in america. I even took a whole class on the subject in college. I always felt special, like I could cross boundries that others couldn't. I really pursued it in college-- minored in Spanish and spent a year in Mexico. Your kids will be able to do it themselves when they are older, but do as much as you can now. Even a little would be appriciated, I'm sure.
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Old 04-06-2005, 05:23 PM
 
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nak so i'm going to have to come back here later to subject you all to my full-on rant.

for now, i will just say that i will never fully forgive my dad for not teaching me korean. (he now realizes he was wrong, but it's a little late.) i'm not screwed up, confused, or tragic, but i am missing out on a lot of richness that could have been mine so easily. i still feel a little bitter, and maybe i'll never get over it.

i just can't say enough to encourage all of you to expose your biracial kids to ALL of their cultures as much as possible.
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Old 04-06-2005, 05:48 PM
 
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I'm back.

I really liked Eilonwy's and Ragana's posts.

The other thing I want to add is that of course they will be American and identify as American, but the problem is that many Americans will beg to differ, because many Americans believe American = white. I am willing to bet cold cash that your daughters will be complimented on their English, asked how long they've been visiting this country, racially profiled in airports, exoticised by their white boy/girlfriends, talked down to by their professors, tokenized as the "safe" person of color, and/or experience many other forms of subtle racism. For sure they will see few positive representations of people who look like them in popular media, while being inundated with oositive images of white people. For sure they will be encouraged (not by you, but by society at large) to elevate their white "side" and downplay their Indian "side" - except when they are asked to show off their Indian "side" for the amusement of white folks. So I believe that you and your dh have a responsibility that parents of white children dont' have: to supply them with tools to fight off all that racist poison.

And culture and community can be immensely powerful tools.

No, of course you don't have to give up the Easter eggs. But I believe you do have to supplement with significant pieces of dh's culture. Others have suggested good ways to do that. I would really encourage you also to look for ways they can be plugged in with a Hindu/Indian community.

It's great that you have contact w/ dh's family and take those trips to India; I did not have that growing up, and I think it would have made a difference.

I wish I could talk to your dh myself and plead with him to not make the same mistakes my father made. I now live in a very multi-racial neighborhood with a large Korean population and it breaks my heart that I can't communicate with people who recognize me as a cousing. It breaks my heart that I can't communicate with my sweet old step-grandmother, who doesn't know English. I work with a Korean American activist organization now, and through them I have found a wonderful community of 1st, 2nd, and 3rd generation KAs who I love, but I miss out on a lot of the conversations and cultural context of what's going on. I try to volunteer in the English class and the health clinic, and not only can I not communicate with the recent immigrants who come to use our services, but I'm constantly making cultural blunders that any preschooler would know to avoid. I'm trying to study Korean now and it is HARD HARD HARD. If my dad had just spoken to me in Korean all along it would have been so much easier. I'm also sad for the special relationship he and I might have had if he'd taken that extra effort.

Anyway, I commend you for trying.
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Old 04-06-2005, 07:59 PM
 
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Originally Posted by guerrillamama
The other thing I want to add is that of course they will be American and identify as American, but the problem is that many Americans will beg to differ, because many Americans believe American = white. I am willing to bet cold cash that your daughters will be complimented on their English, asked how long they've been visiting this country, racially profiled in airports, exoticised by their white boy/girlfriends, talked down to by their professors, tokenized as the "safe" person of color, and/or experience many other forms of subtle racism.
That pretty much sums up my experience. More to the point, your daughters will notice and internalize all this much earlier than you might think. The very first time I experienced racial prejudice, I was two years old. That was when I learned that there was something about me that made me different from other children, black and white.

I'm really glad to hear that there are mixed people out there who don't feel like the lack of knowledge about their minority culture messed them up. A bit jealous, too.

Rynna, Mama to Bean (8), Boobah (6), Bella (4) and Bear (2)
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Old 04-07-2005, 12:10 AM - Thread Starter
 
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Thank you thank you!! You responses are so moving and heartfelt, and such great suggetions. I am going to have a date with dh sometime soon and sit down and read through this thread together. I think it will be important for him to hear from people who have grown up with two or more cultures, what they feel as adults.

When Abi was learning to talk I taught her Tamil body parts and common household objects. She picked it up very easily because I never used English with those few things I knew. When she started to attend story time and playgroups she learned the English, and since the Tamil was not reinforced much at home by both of us, she dropped it. She doesn't know those words anymore.

I bought Tamil story books on our last trip to India. Tamil is written in different symbols than English so I can't read them to her myself. Dh never made the time, or rarely.

As far as the temple goes, it's not child-friendly. Nitara would get into everything and be impossible to chase around the whole time. I learned that with Abi. I would love for dh to take her now, and when Nitara is older we can go together. I guess there's still time for that in the years to come. Abi can just get a later start.

Dh loves our daughters so much. He's a great father in so many ways, and his family is his whole world. I think he just gets busy, is mentally tired after a long day of work, and the days and opportunities are slipping past.

The good things we have are a traditional chant in Sanskrit that is said before dinner. Abi knows most of it and chants along. Most evenings dh will come around and put vibuthi (sacred ashes) on our foreheads. And we do see the IL's or visit India every couple of years. We would be there now for Nitara's first year ceremonies if not for her medical issues. She's not well enough to travel at the current time, but we plan to take her when she's around 3-5 when she's doing better. So she will at least get that exposure to the food and clothing and language those times. When she's around 10 or so we plan to even go there and leave her for the summer with her relatives.

Abi has a great mind and memorizes things easily. She is enrolled in a Spanish class through Parks and Rec and doing so well in it, really enjoys knowing the names of things in two languages. I know she could pick up Tamil just as easily if the effort were made to teach her. But you know, Spanish is something that anyone in the U.S. could stand to learn. Especially in our part of the country.

Thanks again so much!

7yo: "Mom,I know which man is on a quarter and which on is on a nickel. They both have ponytails, but one man has a collar and the other man is naked. The naked man was our first president."
 
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Old 04-07-2005, 09:20 AM
 
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My husband is puerto rican and goes on with the puerto rican pride,when I was pregnant with our daughter he said that she was going to speak spanish and call him papi and be the perfect little "puerto rican princess".Well,almost 6yrs later,she calls him daddy and he doesn't speak spanish with her and hasn't taught her spanish.I wish he did teach her spanish,because it's a language here in florida that people speak alot and it would be to her advantage to be bilingual.
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Old 04-07-2005, 10:27 AM
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Wow, Gurrellamama!!

I have a Mexican sil so my grandchildren will have the cultural integration thing.

Sadly, his really cool Mexican grandparents are in CA so they won't get to see them very much

db
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Old 04-07-2005, 12:09 PM
 
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I'm in a similar situation. My kids were adopted from China. Dh and I are not Asian, so it is even harder for us to provide an adequate cultural education for our children. But, with their adoptions, we have become a Chinese-American family. I agree with guerrillamama that it is important and that your kids will experience racism early on and need to know how to deal with it. My kids are 4 and 7, and they certainly have been the recipients of racism.

We have tried as best we can. Up until recently, we have been enrolled in Chinese school as a family. We have all been studying Mandarin and the girls were taking Chinese folk dance lessons. This is a huge time commitment--it is essentially all afternoon on Sunday, which is prime family time. In addition, I work out of the home full time, so it means that I have next to no time to do all of life's little errands, clean, cook, etc. In addition, the girls mostly hate the language classes. My older dd is in public school, and she fails to see why she should also lose her Sundays to more school. Learning Mandarin is very difficult, and is even more difficult because we have little way to reinforce what we've studied during the week, and honestly little time to try to supplement with videos, etc. So many days, I feel like it is really just a pointless exercise, and I'm resentful of the time it consumes.

In reality, there is almost no chance that any of us will be passibly fluent in Mandarin from going to Chinese school on Sundays. I do hope that by exposure to the language when they are young, it will be easier for the kids to study it in the future if they are so motivated.

But there are other huge benefits to going. It is really important to me that my kids learn to be comfortable in their own skins. It's an important experience for them to walk into a room full of people who look like them on a regular basis, where dh and I are the oddities. In addition, they have many strong role models of talented, strong, brilliant, beautiful Chinese people in leadership roles.

Having said all that, last month we had to stop Chinese school. I've been diagnosed with breast cancer and am undergoing chemo. I feel really bad about stopping, but some things have just had to give and Chinese school was more than we can do right now.

We do try to introduce other cultural things into our lives, like Chinese cooking, holiday traditions, books, music, etc. But research on other groups of transracially adopted children show that these kinds of things tend not to be enough. Many of the adult adoptees are angry that their parents didn't force learning the native language harder, even though the kids might not have wanted themselves to do it at the time.

Anyway,, this is a tough one--I hope you can find a balance.
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Old 04-07-2005, 12:10 PM
 
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My sister was adopted from Paraguay when she was a preschooler by my stepmom. My stepmom had her take Flamenco dance lessons which she loved but otherwise didn't really expose her to her culture or heritage much. Now she's 24 and she is all about learning about her culture and heritage. She says she doesn't feel sad that her mom didnt do this, but it wouldve been nice.

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Old 04-07-2005, 12:17 PM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by EFmom
But there are other huge benefits to going. It is really important to me that my kids learn to be comfortable in their own skins. It's an important experience for them to walk into a room full of people who look like them on a regular basis, where dh and I are the oddities. In addition, they have many strong role models of talented, strong, brilliant, beautiful Chinese people in leadership roles.

Yes Yes Yes. Very well said.

Quote:
Having said all that, last month we had to stop Chinese school. I've been diagnosed with breast cancer and am undergoing chemo. I feel really bad about stopping, but some things have just had to give and Chinese school was more than we can do right now.
EFmom, I'm so sorry! I didn't know! Sending you health and courage vibes.... I know you are a strong woman and you will be ok.
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Old 04-07-2005, 12:55 PM
 
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I was raised bi-cultural, my mom is American and my father is Chilean. I was born and raised in Chile, never actually *lived* in the US until 3 years ago (came here many times, but never for more than a couple months), and still all my life I have felt very "american" because we spoke english with my mom, and we did tons of "american" things (we had fourth of July parties, my moms friends were all american misionaries, so we hung out with them, etc.., we painted eggs for easter, etc..) and just that was enough to give me an american identity. At the same time, I was also very chilean, my name is spanish, also I did stand out in school because of my english, but otherwise, if I didn't speak english, I was completely chilean too. Now I know, that my identity, is a mix of both. I am not american, nor chilean, I am Carmen, and Carmen is both

My children, hopefully, will grow up to be the same, have their own identity, their own sense of how american and how chilean they are. Valentina was born in Chile, we moved here when she was 16 months and as of today, she does not speak more than 50 words in spanish. She understand, she just refuses to speak it. I am a bit sad about it, but I will find fun ways to make spanish a part of our lives, like for example, I am talking only spanish to Vicente who is 13 months. That way, hopefully he will only speak spanish and get Vale to speak it too

Oh, I also love that Valentina's favorite cartoon is Dora, because she is also hispanic, so I try to point out how cool that is, and the advantage that Valentina has to her american peers, I want her to know how important it is, to have 2 open doors instead of one, 2 worlds of completely different cultures for her to explore.
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Old 04-08-2005, 02:13 AM
 
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USamma - Our situation is very similiar to yours. My dh is from Spain, and I have to admitt that neither one of us has really tried all THAT hard to make them learn Spanish. We go visit his parents in the summer, and they insist that the kids will learn as they get older, but I know that it will only get harder and harder. My inlaws and dh's siblings speak no English, so it is virtually impossible for them to get to talk to my kids, and that is SOOOO very sad. But... dh says it is really hard to come home from work and speak Spanish to them because as he puts it, "they don't understand me and I want to be able to talk to my kids!"

Really, I feel as equally to blame. I speak flawless Spanish, and I'm home all day, so I should be trying more. But... with our 5 year old, he would rather go all day without talking than have to speak Spanish. My two year old will just look at you and answer all your questions in English. They both understand, but refuse to speak it.

I know they will learn some Spanish culture because we will continue to go back there a lot, but... its hard, and I really feel like we've failed the kids big time.
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Old 04-08-2005, 12:06 PM
 
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I'm the mother of a hapa boy - my husband is Chinese whereas I am a northern-European-mixed mutt. To us, it was important from the beginning that our kids be raised bilingual and, to some extent, bicultural. It's harder than we used to think in our youthful naivete: he mainly only speaks Chinese to our son but even that is nowhere near equal to the amount of English that the kidlet hears. However, our son does understand basic Chinese even if he rarely responds in that language. We even took the drastic step of having my in-laws come here for a Really Long Time this winter/spring so the boy would be exposed to even more of the language.

In a way, our desire to expose him to both cultures and languages stems from what we have seen with other mixed-heritage family members on both sides who are very disassociated with and ignorant of the non-white parts of their heritage.

: Deirdre & the boys ('02 & '06 vintage)
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Old 04-09-2005, 03:21 AM
 
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Darshani,

As you know, I have three children adopted from India. Maintaining their cultural identities has not been easy. Ravi and I will be going to India August 2006 on a guided tour for Indian adoptee's and their parents.

Since we are Hindus also, I take them to the temple as often as possible.
Priya goes to church with a friend of mine (they do respite care for her) and recently she was mentioning that our God is Jesus. I was so shocked. I realized I had failed her and the other two also.

And whenever Lakshmi sees another Indian, she points and loudly tells me...look mommy, that is an Indian lady! She points at the people as if they are different from her.

I got so busy with massage therapy school that I failed to take the kids to temple Sunday school as much.

I think it is very important that a mother and father make sure to teach the children both cultures. I have neglected to teach the children about my Scottish culture. I have planned to change that.

I also plan to LEARN Hindi soon, so that I can speak to Indians who know Hindi, and my kids can hear it. They get to hear their dad speak Telugu, but he speaks to them in English. He is a Chemistry instructor, and by the time he finishes teaching, he doesn't have the energy to switch over to Telugu when none of us know it!

There are bilingual books available in both Tamil and English, so you can read to your girls. Also, aside from the language, there are lots of English written Indian cultural books. A friend of mine just came back from Calcutta and brought Ravi 4 cultural books: Akbar Birbal, Panchatantra, Jataka Tales and Hitopadesha..these all are moral stories that teach children about right and wrong, and they are all in Indian context. Another friend sent us several religious books like "A Gift of Love" and more. Each book while religious, teaches common cultural elements of Indian life.

I liked the suggestions about approaching the Tamil community to ask someone else to take on the "grandparents" role. And what about enlisting the help of a Tamil teenager who could baby sit?

Well, you have so many great suggestions, I am sure you will find ways to expose your girls to their culture.

Jyotsna

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Old 04-09-2005, 05:51 PM
 
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Another biracial adult here, raised American. I really regret that I don't know more about my mother's culture and language (She is Filipina and speaks Tagalog and Pampango). She tried to raise me bilingually but, when her mom and sister went back to the Philippines when I was three, for some reason I refused to continue to speak anything but English. After that she sort of gave up, as she was the only memeber of her family in the US at the time, and she didn't have access to any other Filipino families. So I was raised mostly as if I was white American. However, subtle cultural differences were a part of our lives, and now I recognize them more.

However, I wish I had learned more and had more ease around Filipino people ... my cousins are great, but my sis and I are "the crazy Americans" in the family ... and I wish I could speak with them.

Generally, if a kid's parents speak two different languages, the advice is for one parent to speak English and the other to speak the other language with the child, exclusively. Or for both parents to speak, for example, Spanish at home if the child gets a great deal of exposure to English elsewhere. Practically speaking, doing this is a great service to your children. Even though I no longer speak Pampango, I find it very easy to learn other languages. I think this facility also helps with basic grammar, spelling, and fluency in English as well.
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Old 04-10-2005, 05:56 AM
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EFMom - I was shocked when I read your post! I hope everything goes as well as it can. Chemo must be tough to bear, especially with two little girls who just want you to be mommy.

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It is very hard to learn another language out of context, such as learning tamil when no one else around them is speaking it. Children that are bilingual are raised hearing both languages; they need to hear both to learn how to form the word sounds.
Not necessarily so. My dd has never lived around and interacted with other native English speakers. At 5 she has a near-native accent and is at age-level proficiency. For nearly three years now, she has also lived in a third language country, so she doesn't hear any French at all except from her father and babysitter, who makes many mistakes. Again, age-level proficiency, native accent. In fact, I've heard native 5 year-old French speakers make many mistakes that my dd does not make.

She also went through a period of refusing English. She would not speak it and she would ask me not to speak it. This lasted nearly two years. When she asked me to say something in French, I did. And, well, for a long time her English was terrible. Six months ago she finally decided that with mommy she speaks only English, and she has never spoken to me in French again! And she is right on the same level in English and French now. In fact, today she slipped up because she was talking to both daddy and me, and she got all embarassed and giggly and said, "Oh, excuse me! I talked to you in French! I got confused cause I was saying something to daddy."

As far as culture goes, my dd knows she is French/Swiss/American. She can recognize those flags, as well as the one of our host country. She is very proud to have three nationalities. So far, we've focused much more on the French and Swiss traditions/holidays than on the American ones. There just aren't a lot of opportunities to celebrate the American holidays around here. (The French and Swiss embassies here actually include us lowly mortals when they celebrate their holidays.) Mostly we celebrate our cultures through food! Honestly, I think it's enough to make simple statements about the things we do and why, "We like to eat chocolate because you and daddy are Swiss!" This sets up an identity for her, and she really enjoys to talk about these things.

I think it's okay to do what you're doing. I think anything more might look/feel contrived. I agree with others who have pointed out that your girls do have their own culture: the American melting pot one.
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Old 04-10-2005, 07:15 AM
 
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Hey, mama! My son is 1/4 Cuban and 1/4 Chinese. His father who is half and half identifies both with his Cuban mother and Chinese father. He is not one over the other. He is first and foremost Cuban and Chinese and American second. He is a first generation American who grew up firmly entrenched in Cuban and Chinese life. His culture, traditions and heritage is his identity so it is natural we follow that. And of course my son is into what his father is into so they both are really into Cuban and Chinese culture. Lion dancing is a major part of lives because my son really enjoys it.

Because of this and living in NYC near his family we more strongly identify with those cultures. We live near Chinatown and near a large Hispanic population so we are immersed in both of these cultures--sometimes more so though American culture. There are days when I hear no English. The cashiers at my grocery store, my doorman, my bank teller, my postal worker all speak Spanish. We chose this area for that reason (and proximity to my MIL in Chinatown). We celebrate Chinese holidays and traditions, honor Cuban traditions and basically practice a mixed lifestyle. We speak Spanish at home because it is important to me and to his father that my son retain his identity. His father and many friends also speak Chinese to him as well. I hope he can speak several languages. Just recently he has been connecting the word in several languages (his close cousins are Cuban Chinese Italian ) and has been grasping Spanish as his primary language. I do slip a lot, but I put a lot of effort into trying to encourage Spanish. I would love to learn Chinese. And now that my parents are adopting Chinese siblings I have 2 reasons.

He can be whoever he wants. But we have piñatas at birthdays, lai see at (Chinese) New Year, attend and behave at funerals a certain way, usually eat chinese or Cuban food, etc because this is the way our friends and family do it. And what works for us. But we are different as we are immersed in a city and in people who do as we do. My MIL, SIL, BIL, nieces and cousins are all here so on appropriate holidays we are all celebrating these things together. And no English is spoken :LOL

My son's papa prefers his own cultures. He is proud of them, and he lovingly remembers growing up involved in his heritage. He loved it, and he wants to provide that for his son. So for my family, culture is a big part of who we are are. It can be a hard situation and depends on the person. It is important for us to represent both cultures so we do what we can to instill both in our son. I am sure society at large will eventually teach him American culture so we will not need to make such an effort.

I do agree with others about suggestions on how to incorporate another culture into everyday life. And I do not think she will be too confused. My coparent, his siblings and cousins are all quite fond of their childhood and heritage. I hope you can get plugged into a local community and integrate them. That would be great!

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Old 04-10-2005, 01:56 PM
 
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Hi, everyone:

First of all, let me explain a bit about myself. My husband is American (half Cuban but doesn't speak Spanish -- understands quite a bit). I am Aruban (from the island of Aruba) and my native language is Papiamento. I also speak English (duh!), Spanish, Dutch and some French (it's been nine years!).

Before having ds, we talked about how we wanted to raise him. At first dh wanted me to teach our baby Spanish and all the languages that I know. By reading many books and talking to people I came to the conclusion that I wanted to, first of all, raise ds bilingual. It's hard enough to teach him a language that no one else around us speaks.

I'm speaking to him exclusively in Papiamento, and dh of course speaks to him only in English. I sing Aruban nursery songs to him, we listen to Aruban songs and read some books in Papiamento. I also translate each and every book I encounter into Papiamento (that is the hardest part but I'm good at languages so it's a fun challenge -- Goodnight Moon doesn't rhyme, though). I encourage my mom to speak only Papiamento to him. My mom still lives in Aruba and visits every so often.

It's been paying off. Ds is 19 months, understands both languages equally as far as we can tell, and says about 25-30 words in total, a little more than half in Papiamento as he's all day with me, and the rest in English. He can name all his body parts in Papiamento and as a result dh is learning more and more Papiamento as well. He thinks it's great. We can't wait to take him to Aruba either and have him talk in Papiamento to his family members (we will tell them to speak to them only in Papiamento -- Aruba is a multilingual community where people switch languages with ease).

Later on when he's older I'll teach him Spanish as well, since it will only help him professionally as well as personally. You feel more bonded with other cultures and peoples. Learning other languages also makes you more open-minded, tolerant and respectful of other cultures.

Culture is important to me, and it's part of who we are. And we should be proud of who we are. What better way to show it than to honor your culture and heritage?

Cheers,
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