At only three years old, the seeds of self-awareness have been planted in my beautiful biracial, bicultural daughter. The beginnings of her personal identity are taking root, growing strong on the foundation of two loving parents, a stable household and the support of family and friends. However, as a biracial Latina myself, I know the road to self-love and acceptance in an environment that doesn't readily reflect your image will not be a straight path for my half Cuban, half African-American girl. Inevitably, societal assumptions of the way she looks and cultural expectations of the way she acts will push my daughter to label herself into only one box and, therefore, potentially isolating the other.
Recently, my daughter shared with me her existing perception of identity by saying, "Mami, I'm Latina, like you. Daddy is American. Sebastian [her brother] is Latina, too." It was hard to control my grin; what mother doesn't wish for their daughter to see themselves in her? In addition, since my aspiration to raise bilingual children rests on her willingness to accept a language not predominantly spoken at home, I was happy just to hear the word Latina come from her little toddler lips.
As I reported our daughter's observations to my husband that night, I started to wonder if I was making a big parenting mistake. Admittedly, my daughter thinks she is Latina because my influence tells her so. As I looked at my husband, at his dark skin and loving eyes, as I thought of the gracious family I inherited in marrying him—the legacy of my father-in-law, who passed away while we were on our honeymoon, never knowing his son's children—I felt wrong. I felt guilt. My children are his children, too. And he is not Latino.
Cultivating a bicultural identity means balancing and embracing all of a child's mixed heritages. It means loving a child as they are, more than a parent's desire to create an identity for them. Balancing between the right to self-identify with the awareness that society will always label us according to the way we look, act or the language we speak is tough.
Whether by giving birth to bicultural or biracial children, adopting a child from another country or just growing up Latino in mainstream America, children with mixed heritages should feel wholly supported, not haphazardly identified by a government-mandated box to check.
As children so often do, my daughter taught me a valuable life lesson that day: I love my husband too much to garner his heritage obsolete in the identity of our children. My daughter is not Latina, nor is she Afro-Latina. And while she isn't entirely African-American either, I will never again allow that part of her legacy to be overshadowed by the desire to leave mine. If our children are our legacy, than I am proud to be raising one filled with the beauty of two heritages, two cultures and two languages.
How do you cultivate your child's bicultural identity?