I just got back from my hometown of Santo Domingo and experiencing what I call the ‘withdrawal stage’ of getting back to the United States after being in the Dominican Republic. Aside from the nostalgic feeling of leaving friends and family behind, there is also the longing for that natural joy inherent to life on the island. This made me think of the happiness lessons our kids can learn from Dominican Culture, even if they don’t live on the island or don’t have Dominican ancestry.
Celebrating Hispanic Heritage Month has me thinking of the many ways I can integrate my Dominican culture into things that can help my kids lead fulfilling lives; it’s not only about enriching their cultural knowledge of their heritage but also about teaching them things that can be useful beyond their Latino pride. Since I’m always looking for a multicultural approach to our lives, I decided to share with all of you the happiness lessons our kids can learn while we teach them about Dominican culture.
It is my believe that raising global citizens entails that we live and breath multiculturalism and make a point in teaching our children about the diverse cultures of the world. As a mom, I also know the importance of leaving a legacy that sets the foundation that will help our children lead joyful lives. As a Dominican, I know there are many happiness lessons our kids can learn from my culture and you can choose to do some as an activity to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, or better yet, to seamlessly add them to your daily life, with your own heritage twist.
Happiness Lessons Our Kids Can Learn
During Hispanic Heritage Month
“Donde come uno, comen dos…”
Throughout my life, I heard my grandmother say “donde come uno, comen dos; y donde comen dos, comen tres”, more times than I can remember. Which means that with the amount of food one person is eating, two can eat; and with the amount of food two people are eating, three can eat. This is one thing I love about Dominican culture; we are taught at a very early age to ‘make do’ and in making do there is a very big lesson intertwined: be generous no matter how little you have.
I grew up poor, but the one thing that stroke me the most looking back to my childhood is that I was unaware of how poor we were. Anyone could tell you that the poorest people in the poorest neighborhoods of the Dominican Republic will share their meal with you, no need to call in advance. Any Dominican who grew up in the island could tell you that it is a common practice for kids to eat their peace of meat or chicken first, because if guest showed up, an adult will take the meat from the family’s plates to serve a complete plate to the unannounced guest.
This gives children a sense of abundance; it promotes being generous which we all know promotes happiness. Among the happiest memories of my childhood there are many of those visits, family members who would show up at the door and shout “Amparo, échale agua al sancocho”, to let my grandmother know she should pour more water into the stew since she had hungry visitors at the door. If I close my eyes, I can almost see mamá smiling as she stirred the pot.
Dancing & The Dominican Culture of Happy
My earliest memories of dancing merengue with a partner go back to the age of 5 years old. For Dominicans the word party automatically means there will be merengue and bachata dancing, and for kids’ birthday parties it is a mandatory requirement. “El que no baila no come bizcocho” you can still hear at kids’ celebrations to remind children they have to ‘earn’ their piece of cake by hitting the dance floor.
For me growing up in this environment push me out of the comfort zone and eliminated any shyness sentiment I might have experience at any given party: dancing was a priority, because cake. As we know, dancing benefits many aspects of our health, and in turn, each of those helps us be happier, savor small moments and provide the ability to change our moods when we are feeling down. The best part, you don’t have to enroll them on dance lessons, you can simply turn on the radio with your favorite music, grab your kid and make him dance with you. As a Dominican parent I do this all the time, and as my kids grow, I can see how their love of music and dancing continues to increase.
Dominicans Are Spontaneous & Fun Driven
This is one of those things I miss a lot about being immerse in the Dominican culture: spontaneity! While here in the United States live seems to revolve around work, productivity and making money, one of the main goals of Dominicans is having fun and being spontaneous helps achieve that goal, many times without having to spend a lot of money.
I have countless stories of starting a party on the spot for no particular reason, heading to the beach just because a few friends got together and it was hot, or simply playing a game to kill time. Being spontaneous makes people flexible; it promotes creativity and reduces stress. Adopting a spontaneous mentality and teaching kids to pursue fun and do spare-of-the-moment things can definitely make them happy.