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?