When I decided to start a family with my husband, an American in Kansas City, I knew that I wanted our daughter to embrace my culture and to love my island as much as I do. For me, it was very important to raise our daughter in a bicultural home. I wanted her to honor and be proud of both her Puerto Rican and American heritage by being able to embrace both of her cultures and traditions without having to choose one or the other or being half and half.
Usually, when there is a bicultural home, there is a disadvantaged culture, because of where the family lives, the lack of support, resources, among others. I knew our daughter would be fine learning and embracing her American culture, it was her Puerto Rican heritage that worried me the most. With most of my family living in Puerto Rico, I realized it was up to me to teach her what was important to me.
During this journey I have learned a lot. I wanted to share some of the actions, tips, and activities I feel have helped us in helping our daughter to embrace her Puerto Rican culture. These are just simple actions you can take when raising kids in a bicultural home, no matter where are you from.
If you know the language, teach it to your kids. Since the day my daughter was born, I started speaking Spanish to her. My goal has been for her to be able to understand my family and me. I know it is a very difficult task, but the earlier you start the better. My daughter does not take any formal lessons, even though sometimes I wish she could. I just speak to her and even though, most of the time she replies in English, I feel that we have a special connection just because we can communicate in Spanish.
Teach them through food
This is one is an easy and fun way of learning about other cultures. I like to think the gastronomy of a country is like the soul of that place. Teach your kids about ingredients that are originate from your country and the traditional dishes. Cook together those special meals your mom used to make, or your favorite dish, or a holiday dessert. When you make those recipes tell them the story behind that dish, or why you like it so much. Don’t forget to integrate those dishes into your weekly meal rotation.
Add holiday celebrations
Celebrate a holiday or a tradition from your country. Celebrate as you were back home, explain the why, and make sure to integrate all the members of you family. Celebrate the independence of your country, Día de los Muertos, or any other day that is dear to your heart and roots. Puerto Ricans celebrate Epiphany Day or as we call it Three Kings’ Day. This holiday is celebrated on January 6th with family gatherings, food, and gift exchanges. It’s a very special day and is as important as Christmas in my island. That’s why we decided to integrate this holiday into our family traditions.
Teach them about the history
Make it simple, fun and age appropriate. You can use books, make arts and crafts, activities. Teach them about the flag, location, climate, national anthem, important history facts and so on. The more they know the better.
Listen to music
Each country has its traditional rhythms, teach them about those and if you know the moves teach that too. Talk with your kids about how the music has evolved in your country. Tell them about artists from your country, the oldies and the new ones and don’t forget to also include your favorite ones. In our home we talk about rhythms like bomba, plena and salsa. We also talk about artists like Hector Lavoe, Antonio Caban Vale, and Ricky Martin. Be creative and have fun while you do it.
With this I refer to your own personal stories. Tell them about your country, if you lived there at some point talk about that as well. Share the things you love the most, your favorite places, the food, your memories and what all that means to you. Those stories are the ones that will stay with our loved ones when we are not in this world anymore and will create an unbreakable bond between you and your children.
Take them to your country
I know this is not possible for many families for so many reasons. But if you are able, do it, at least once. Take them to your hometown, where you grew up, show them your favorite places, and let them have their own experiences as they interact with their heritage.
Raising children in a bicultural home is not an easy task, I have learned you need lots of love and consistency. It’s not just a random choice you make as you go. It’s a choice you make every day to remind your kids, with your actions, that their heritage comes from two equally important places. When your help your kids embrace their heritage, you are also helping them embrace, celebrate, and accept all the other cultures in the world, a very valuable lessons in the world we are living today.