My husband is a Gujarati of Indian descent born and raised in Africa. Like me, he grew up in a household where his family’s cultural traditions, food, clothing and language were a source of pride and engrained in his childhood years.
Like many Americans, our children are mutts. And because they are third-generation Americans, my kids haven’t had the type of exposure to ethnic traditions that my husband and I did. English is our default language and I worry that we don’t do enough in the way of cultural traditions. I’m concerned that my kids will grow up without a true understanding of their roots.
If you’re troubled at the thought of your kids losing their cultural identity in the face of all-things American, here are some tips to help re-establish your ethnic roots.
1. Tap into your parents’ expertise.
If you are lucky enough to live in the same place as your parents (or if you visit them regularly), ask them to speak to your kids in the native language, especially if you don’t speak it well yourself. Grandparents can also help your little ones get excited about food, clothing, culture and traditions from the homeland.
2.Use your local library.
Libraries can be a great resource on information about different countries’ customs and traditions. In addition to books, many local libraries have documentaries on foreign cultures and religions and offer patrons opportunities to learn languages online for free.
3.Become active with existing cultural associations – or start your own.
If you live in a large city, there is likely at least one association from your homeland that you can get involved with. If you live in a smaller town with at least a few others from your ethnic background, it’s an opportunity for you to start your own society. You and your kids will make new friends and have fun by hosting cultural events, holiday celebrations and food festivals.
4.If you can afford it, travel to the land of your roots.
As a kid, I was lucky to have the opportunity to travel to Pakistan with my family every few years. If you have the financial means, plan a trip abroad with your kids, ideally when they’re old enough to remember and appreciate everything they learn.
5.Volunteer at your kids’ school.
The kids will learn something new, and from researching your presentation, you probably will too.
Most schools suffer from a lack of resources, and teachers and administrators are thrilled when parents volunteer their time and expertise. Organize a date to come into your kid’s classroom to present on your native land. The kids will learn something new, and from researching your presentation, you probably will too.
6.Learn to cook some ethnic dishes, and make them regularly.
I love to experiment in my kitchen, and while I think it’s important to expose kids to cuisine from different cultures, it’s at least as important for them to acquire a taste for our traditional dishes. If recipes haven’t been passed down from generations in your family, the Internet is a good place to start. Find some ethnic food stores, stock your kitchen with authentic spices and start cooking!
People naturally gravitate toward those they have the most in common with. Many of my friends are second-generation Americans with a heritage similar to mine. But getting out of your comfort zone and befriending people who are new or recent immigrants can bring you and your kids a step closer to your roots, and keep you in touch with how things are changing or evolving in the homeland.