Raising Multi-Cultural Kids (in a world that wants to put them in boxes)

DSC_0140 - Version 2Invariably, this time of year,  someone will say to us, “You celebrate Chanukah?  I thought your kids were Latino?”  What?!?!?  In what world is that a reasonable statement?!?!

We’ve worked so hard to have our children appreciate every part of who they are, that it’s frustrating when people try desperately to put the kids into a pre-conceived group that works for them.  We want our kids to celebrate who they are and where they come from, and we want them to do the same for others.  We haven’t always done it right, and we’ve made mistakes along the way, but our boys understand their history and where they fit into the world.  We hope that they grow up into the men we envision, here’s a few things that we think about along the way.

Know Your Gente and Your Meshpucha:  Our boys know who their people are.  They know their great grandmother owned a restaurant in Costa Rica, that their great great grandparents came to America from Russia and Poland escaping persecution, and that their great great great great granduncle was a general in the Civil War.  The know how all of these pieces make up the whole of them.

They understand what their roots are and how they got to be who they are today.  Understand how their parents grew up, one a country mouse, and one a city mouse.  How their grandparents grew up on the street of Dorchester (just like them), or in Cleveland and Up North, or in Limon.  They know all of our childhood stories and how those stories relate to their present

Talk the Talk:  It wasn’t always easy to speak Spanish with the boys, and it’s gotten harder throughout the years.  In the beginning, both boys were as comfortable with Spanish as they were with English.  When Jalen started pre-school, the only way he would stop crying is when the teachers spoke Spanish to him.  We’ve failed at keeping it up, sometimes there’s no excuse but laziness.

But, they continue to know their languages.  I remember when Xavier was a toddler he would tell people he liked huevos but didn’t like eggs (they’re the same thing).  The kids would tell strangers that they didn’t have a grandma and a grandpa, that they had an Abuelo and an Abuelita, a Bubbie and a Zayde and that was perfectly fine with them.

The boys are comfortable with the rhythm of Spanish and the patterns of the Hebrew prayers.  Their language is peppered with a bit of Spanish here and a smidge of Yiddish there.  They have been taught to respect others people’s language and words.  They know that everyone doesn’t use the same language to express themselves and they respect those differences.

Eat as a Family:  Our family dinners hold us together and share our culture.  They’re the time when we practice our Spanish and talk about our traditions.  We share the foods of our culture and speak about how we ate when we were kids.  Jalen and Xavier love Bubbie’s chicken noodle soup, the same recipe her Bubbie used.  We eat Gallo Pinto for breakfast, lunch, and dinner just like Ed’s Abuelita did in her own restaurant.

And when we cook these history lessons, we listen to the music of our childhood and of our people.  The kids know the music of Celia Cruz and Tito Puente.  They watch Ed and I dance around the kitchen and learn how to wiggle their hips like a Salsero.

Speak Your Mind:  When people ask us awkward questions, we give them detailed answers.  If you ask, or if you assume, we’re going to give you the full answer, no matter how long it takes.  This was pretty easy when Xavier was a baby.  We surrounded ourselves with people who knew us and knew where we came from.  And, Xavier was the first baby in our life, so people just took him for what he was.

When Jalen was born it was different story.  On the night he was born, when the ob-gyn lifted him up, she looked at Ed and said, “He’s a blonde.  You sure he’s yours?”

I never could have imagined the issues that arise by having a towheaded child.  Weekly, someone asks me how I “ended up” with a blonde kid.  Without going into a detailed explanation of genetics and DNA, Jalen is quite simply the sum or his parts.  While, yes, most of us resemble our Latino or Eastern-European roots, Ed’s dad comes from strong mid-western stock.  Cleveland, Fort Wayne, and Topinabee is as much a part of our roots as the rest of our pasts.  Calling my son, “Gringo,” even with a smile on your face, is not ever acceptable.

My sensitive, sweet, funny, independent child, is consistently given the message that he doesn’t fit in.  Ed and I know a bit about not fitting in.  Growing up one of the only Jews in a traditional Christian town was often isolating.  Even in New York City, Ed grew up feeling like he never quite fit in, never White enough, never Latino enough.  We don’t wish these feelings on our children.  And we consistently stick up for who they are and expect them to do the same.  We hope that they surround themselves with people who except them for who they are with no assumptions or limitations.

Everyone Has a Story:  Ever person that I meet, every person that my children meet, every person that we come across, has a unique story.  I hope that our children learn to respect everyone’s story.  My children’s story is no more interesting, inspiring, important than anyone else’s.  We teach our children to learn about other’s past and history.  To respect everyone for who they are.  To not think they are better than anyone, to not think anyone is better than them.

I’m not sure if we’ve made all the right choices.  I’m not sure if we do everything right.  I hope that our intention will pay off in the end.  I hope that our children will be strong enough to except everything that they are: Latino and White, Jew and Christian, City Boys and Country Mice, and everything else that they choose to define themselves as as they travel through this life.  And that they surround themselves with people who except their stories and have amazing stories of their own.

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2 thoughts on “Raising Multi-Cultural Kids (in a world that wants to put them in boxes)

  1. what a beautiful family! you have made some great points, and I thought it was funny how your son said that he like the Spanish word for eggs but not the English word eggs 🙂 ‘ happy Thanksgiving

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