8 Ways to Pass Your Heritage on to Your Children
As an immigrant living in the United States it is very difficult to maintain one’s culture and identity intact, since it’s only natural to be influenced by our new lifestyle and the predominant culture. However, for all of us who immigrated as adults, this influence cannot erase what we have deep-rooted within ourselves and while assimilating and learning the new ways, we embrace with pride the one thing we could not leave behind: our heritage.
This certainty of knowing where we come from helps us navigate the diversity in this country with ease. Then, we become parents and it’s a whole new ball game. We want our children to experience pride to be a part of our culture, to have a sense of belonging to that home we left years ago and they’ll probably only get to know for a few vacation days each year, or not even that.
The question is: How do we achieve instilling our culture and identity to them?
The answer is simple, yet not easy. We are the main source of our culture they have available and it has to come to them the same way the dominant culture does, naturally and effortlessly. They have to live it on a daily basis and not feel they are forced into it, repetition will bring assimilation.
Our challenge is even greater when living in a community where there is little representation from our native culture, since the children will not have other examples of families where they can see similar traditions. That’s why we need to do our part in making our household a vivid representation of our home country.
One main focus most people have (including myself) is teaching the language from the very beginning. Making my children bilingual is very important to me and I truly believe that this is a huge element in understanding the culture and learning to like it. You cannot make your own what you can’t understand. That being said, keep in mind that language it’s not enough and there are other things you have to consider to make the experience more interesting for the kids.
While this subject is very important to you, don’t forget that this is the culture where your children are growing up and most likely it will be the main cultural identity for them. The best thing you can do is to create a positive environment where being bicultural it’s something good and positive. Your children will likely blossom if they can experiment the American culture freely, without feeling they are betraying your teachings or are being judged.
The harmony between what you are teaching them and what they are learning outside of home is key to your success. Being critical about what the dominant culture has to offer is not appropriate and will make your children feel isolated and different from you. However, if you let them immerse and learn hand-by-hand what both cultures have to offer, they will see the upside of being multicultural.
Here, I give you a few tips of things you can do on a daily basis that will stay with your children while they grow.
1. Cook traditional foods and make mealtime something important. Eating while all sitting at the table will make the foods more meaningful.
2. Don’t forget your home country’s holidays; it will definitely be fun for your kids to have more holidays and celebrations.
3. If you live in a community where there is no representation from your culture, become one. Plan activities for your kids where you can show them more about your culture, invite your children’s friends.
4. Involve your children in issues relevant to your culture (depending on their age). Make them aware of cultural events, news or needs of the community.
5. Play traditional music in your home. You can create fun games about who dances better, who knows the lyrics and such.
6. Keep in touch with family members abroad. Let your children talk to cousins, aunts and uncles, grandmas and grandpas. This will make them feel part of that group as well.
7. Teach them basic history, the flag and basic geography of your country. They won’t know as much as a child that is being raised there, but they should know more than a child with a different background.
8. Speak to them in your own language. It’s one of the basics for your kids to get immersed in the culture, being able to communicate with relatives who don’t speak English.