Raising the Next Multicultural Generation Part Uno

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This is part of a series exploring identity as it pertains to raising multicultural children today. I know the topic of identity is a tricky one and I don’t claim to be an expert. I know about myself and my experience being multicultural or “mixed” or whatever you want to call it. I don’t believe there’s a right answer to anything, on this topic or any other topic for that matter. I have opinions and ideas and those change with time and experience. Part Uno focuses on how my husband and I have developed our cultural identities. Take a look see, share your thoughts and be kind.

My biological mother is Filipino. My biological father is Cuban. I was raised by the latter’s family in a predominantly Latino (at the time, primarily Cuban) community.

I self-identify as Cuban-American.

My husband’s father is Portuguese and Spanish. My husband’s mother is Portuguese, Italian and Irish. When recently asked how he self-identifies, my husband admitted he’d never given the subject much thought. Portuguese comes immediately to mind for him because his grandparents, who live less than a half hour away, celebrate their culture as part of their everyday lives. It’s something he’s witnessed since he was a baby – through their meals, their conversations, the newspapers lying around the house, their use of the Portuguese language, the TV shows they choose to watch, the conversations they engage in.

They live in the United States but still have their roots and hearts very firmly planted in their homeland.

However, while Portuguese comes first and foremost to mind, he admits he does not feel any strong affiliation to one particular ethnicity or culture. He grew up in a “white” neighborhood (his description of his perception of the community he grew up in) and spent a lot of time during his early years with people who’s roots and hearts are most firmly planted in the U.S. of A. For him, the subject of identity was a non-subject, Is a non-subject.

Until, that is, I remind him we’re raising daughters who are Cuban, Filipino, Irish, Italian, Portuguese and Spanish (in alphabetical order so as not to give special treatment to any one).

They have such a rich selection from which to choose their cultural identity; it fascinates me. Some might argue it’s not a choice; it’s who they are. Being someone who “is” Cuban and Filipino but solely identifies as Cuban-American, I can tell you it’s a choice, a very personal one. It doesn’t matter where anyone came from. What matters is what happens in the day to day and what speaks to each person.

For my husband and I, the impact of our cultural and ethnic experiences differ in the absence and presence of their daily celebration.

With undeniable certainty, I can tell you not a day went by in my childhood and adolescence where the words “Cuba” or “Cuban” weren’t spoken. The language of my home was Spanish. The food in our kitchen was a celebration of island flavors. From the next door neighbor to the student at the desk next to mine, just about everyone was Latino. The neighborhood I grew up in had at one time been considered “Havana on the Hudson” so the language in the streets was Spanish, the faces were a rainbow of skin tones, the parades and festivals were for our political figures, saints and poets, the names of parks and buildings paid homage to Latino heroes.

It was impossible to not feel the enormous sense of pride felt by all.

My husband’s experience is completely different. I’m not saying there was a lack of culture to his life. On the contrary, I think his life was rich with meaningful traditions, rituals and celebrations. However, his were of the mainstream variety. There was no identifying the motions of his culture as American or white. They were just a matter of fact. There isn’t the intense desire to hold on tight to your roots because there isn’t much chance the mainstream culture is going to throw your customs by the wayside.

In constrast, in a community like mine I think something not quite like fear of sadness/defeat/failure/heaviness but similar to it amps up the thirst to be proud and wave your flag high. There is the hunger to keep our identity and the many ways we celebrate and define it alive and flourishing.

I think I’ve made it easy to see why I identify as Cuban-American and my husband, while not strongly pulled in one direction, would say Portuguese American is as close as he’s going to get to putting a label on himself when it comes to cultural identity.

But what about all the rest? Don’t they count for something?

Certainly they count. But it’s like this.

I have terrible comedic timing, a light up your face smile and tend to be moody. My husband is goofy, has the funniest chuckle and has the uncanny ability to tune out our daughters no matter how much noise they make. Our oldest has my smile and moodiness along with her papi’s chuckle and the ability to tune out her sister no matter how loud she gets. Our baby has my smile, terrific comedic timing and her papi’s goofiness and a bit of his chuckle. See? We gave them some ingredients, they picked what felt right and improvised. Voila, a fresh, never before type dish. Same with the culture/ethnicity bit. We’re giving them ingredients and they’ll cook up what they please.

As parents, I believe our job is to educate, celebrate, nurture and share what we know. The first step to providing this guidance is knowing ourselves. Then we must trust our children to create the identity that makes them feel most at home. Trust them to find what makes them feel most rooted and most ready to take flight all at once.

How do you self-identify? What’s your journey been like to identifying that way? What beautiful mix are your children?

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  1. When it comes to raising multigenerational children, I think you sum it up well when you say, “As parents, I believe our job is to educate, celebrate, nurture and share what we know.”

  2. I self-identity as Dominican American. Both my parents are from the Dominican Republic and I was born and raised in the US, mostly in NYC in the predominately Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights. So, like you, Spanish was my first language. During my upbringing, my culture was all about the Dominican Republic, con mucho orgullo y amor! Still, I wonder what will be of my future children if I marry outside the Dominican race. Will they identify with the Dominican culture as much as I did? Even if I do marry and have kids with a Dominican man, my children will be influenced by parents who are American as well, who speak English fluently, and, sometimes, much more comfortably. It will be interesting to see what happens then.

    Interesting post!

  3. I wonder the same for my girls. For me the “choice” was easy. Half Spanish, half Puerto Rican. Now they are part Greek as well. It’s all beautiful, but it makes me wonder.

  4. Grew up pretty much 100% Cuban in Miami. And feel very Cuban even though I have Spanish grandparents and was born in the US. My girls feel they are Cuban, at least partly Cuban. I guess it’s all the Celia Cruz, tostones and black beans they are exposed to. I loved your post!

  5. i don’t have children but i know the importance of talking about this.. there was never a question of being Cuban–not even Cuban-American since I was born there. I later came to realize that perhaps I am C/A since I’ve been here all of my life (having left Cuba when I was only 2). That being said, my paternal grandfather is Jamaican while grandparents on both sides are Chinese… I’ve never identified myself as China, but I do recognize that it’s in my blood. Pretty significant, too. And there was the black element, which I hate having to defend or explain to both non-black Latin and black American (non-Latin) friends… that’s a whole other debate and ID issue. For all intents and purposes, soy Cubana. Point, period, blank! 🙂 Sea negra or whatever! 😉

  6. It’s all about educating your kids and It’s a parents responsibility to do so early on. I bet your daughters are so beautiful! I find multicultral families so interesting. Not one is the same.

  7. My son – Puerto Rican, Ecuadorian and Caucasian (a long list of European countries on that side of the family). We all educate him on the richness of his background. I often wonder how it will come together in his head as he gets older. Great topic. Thanks for sharing.

  8. I self identify as Mexican-American. Yet I am a mixed breed myself. I grew up in East Los Angeles where most people in my community are Mexican or Mexican-American. Like your self… there were many parades and events celebrating the Mexican-American culture. I would love to raise my son the same way.

  9. When the country singer Shania Twain first hit the scene in the early ’90s, she caused a big stink because she said she was Native American.

    By blood, she is not. But, she was raised by a step-father who was full-blooded Native American.

    The point: She was raised in a culture and identified with that culture — regardless of the blood in her veins.

    We identify with what we know. I am part many other things are are not Latino/Cuban, but I identify with the Cuban because it is how I was raised, what I ate, what I spoke, what I breathed.

    I’ve had people tell me I am too “white” to be Cuban; that I have the wrong last name to be Cuban…

    You know what, I am America, that is what I am…a beautiful blend of cultures and passions.

    Your kids are America too.

    They will not identify as you did because they have their own life and their own experiences.

    My daughter will just have a sprinkling of the Cubanness I grew up with…as long as she knows where her roots are, I’m OK.

    I always remember that America sucks us in, eliminates some of the “otherness” eventually.

  10. Great post, Carla! I am Mexican-American, Chicana, Latina — and identify as all the prior, and it’s interesting to me to see how even the words to identify *ourselves* have changed over time. Although my son is also Mexican-American, I know that his self identity was influenced not only directly by his experiences growing up (of which I hope I was a strong part :), but also by the historical period in which he lives. His best friends growing up were Russian (born in Russia), Persian (born here) and Mexican-American (a dad Mex-Am and a mother who was white). So the cultural/racial blends are becoming more ubiquitous. However, my husband (not my son’s father) is from Cameroon (born and raised) so any children we have will have two very distinct and strong cultures and will be yet another variety! LOTS to think and talk about.

  11. Carla, this is so interesting and I’m so glad you’re doing this series. I think it’s so important that everyone feel they have the right to identify in the way that they choose. My husband and I have both experienced struggles in this and I really appreciate that you’re taking this deeper look into the topic and more specifically into the parenting aspect. I can’t wait to read your next post! 🙂

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