When it comes to cultural heritage and identity for American Latinos we must talk about a mixed herencia that is also blending with the American culture and lifestyle. To me, identifying the traits and customs that are relevant to us as a family within the American experience is as important as preserving our cultural heritage, our values and traditions with a sense of pride that make us whole.
As an immigrant living in the United States for over 13 years I have gone through this process before, as an individual, and now as a mom of 3 American Latinos, passing on my cultural heritage and those things I treasure the most from my roots has become front and center in the way I parent my children. When I think of the kind of family legacy I’m creating, the matters of culture and identity are not only present, but crucial to the way I want to nurture my kids to be whole human beings.
While cultural heritage is usually thought of as a collection of material things like monuments, sculptures and other artifacts, we know that it really entails more than that. It leaves more fervently within the intangible space in which our living experiences and evolution play the main role and makes a small town, a big city, a country, and even a region unique in its own way.
I know first hand that maintaining one’s culture and identity intact is very difficult, even impossible, when you immerse yourself with gusto in another culture as it is only natural to be influenced by our new lifestyle and the predominant culture we live in. However, for all of us who immigrated as adults, this influence cannot erase what we have deep-rooted within ourselves and even makes it to run even deeper as a way to wear with pride the one thing we could not leave behind when we left: our cultural heritage.
All of these might sound too complex for many people, and it is complex. I’ve found that complexity to be the root from where the American Latino identity is born: a multifaceted, multiracial and multicultural experience that can only be defined by its uniqueness and diversity as opposed of fitting in a box in which the nuance of our experiences gets lost.
So, is it impossible to pass on and preserve our cultural heritage? Of course no! It might seem challenging on a day-to-day basis as we continue to experience our own transformation as we live in the US longer, or for those parents who are first and second generation American, to hold on to the cultural heritage of their parents and grandparents.
That’s why I came up with a list of the things I do regularly to instill my cultural heritage onto my children in a natural manner. The same way we acquire when we live in a culture, gradually and in a matter-of-fact way: living it every day.
7 Tips For Instilling Your Cultural Heritage Onto Your Kids
- Heritage Language. I cannot stress enough the importance of teaching your kids the language of your origin or that of your parents. You’ve probably heard of all the benefits or raising bilingual, but in this case, it’s not about those important advantages, it is about having a strong family legacy which’s base is being able to communicate on the heritage language. Being able to communicate in the language of your parents and grandparents creates a bond like no other to the culture and the lifestyle.
- Get Cooking! One of the best ways to teach about culture is through food. Cooking with your children traditional dishes from your family’s country once a week is a great way to allow them to make the emotional connection to their cultural heritage by bonding with you and learning not only about how to cook, but the stories of how you learned to cook those dishes and what they mean to you, what memories they bring.
- Special Holidays. Another great way to teach your kids about their cultural heritage is by celebrating important holidays from your home country. Pick the ones that are kid-oriented, align with your faith and/or patriotic to celebrate at home. Getting to have special holidays and also celebrating the American holidays gives them the excitement of having double celebrations while seamlessly learning about their cultural heritage.
- Get Dancing! This is a big one for me as a Caribbean. Teaching my children to dance and Dominican music is an everyday thing for me. But if dancing is not for you, you can still use music as a way of teaching about your culture. You might learn to play a traditional instrument along with your child; sing traditional folk songs or do karaoke with them with songs from your childhood. Bonding is the best way of teaching and building a legacy.
- Pop Culture Matters. A cool way to connect with older kids is sharing info about new artists and entertainment from your country. They might not want to hear about history or things that happened many years ago; but providing access to things kids their own age are listening to and watching over there. It will give them insight on the culture that you will not be able to give them, but it will help them to love their cultural heritage as something that does relates to them.
- Family Ties. Due to the magic of technology we can maintain that connection to family members who are abroad. Let your kids use their language skills with grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, cousins and so on. We know bonding through technology is the new normal for youngsters and in this case it is justify by the distance. You achieve three goals here: family bonding, let them use tech and they get to also practice the minority language.
- History Fun! Okay, you ought to bore them a little. This one might not be the most popular way to teach them about their cultural heritage. Depending on their age, they might resist to this one. However, even when they push a bit, they will still learn important facts. You don’t have to go deep into the details, but teaching them some historical facts, geography and fun facts that will paint a bigger picture for them about the country of their parents.
Multiculturalism, Diversity & Inclusion Expert | Author | Speaker