On Raising a Multicultural Family

I am a first-generation American, the daughter of Mexican immigrants who crossed the southern border many, many years ago. My skin has less melanin than my mother, but probably more than my father. I know the sting of being seen as other, and I’ve heard the painful stories shrouded in humor by family who find this the easiest way to cope with wounds too deep to look at. I am married to a man whose ancestry spans German, Irish, Welsh, English, Finnish, and Norwegian descent. They have stopped counting how many generations have been here.

Early on in our marriage, pre-children and pre-sleep deprivation, I had a rude awakening when I realized that my kids might not have the same connection and deep love for Mexico that I did. Until I married someone who was not Latino, this reality had not been something I had considered.  

Our children are, naturally, multiracial and multicultural. While raising a family with our diverse makeup has its challenges, we are doing our best to take advantage of the opportunity that has been presented to us. We are giving our children the gift of being exposed to an array of experiences and appreciation of cultural differences. Sometimes this process feels very natural and sometimes we have to put in a little more work. Here are some of the ways we have been intentional about raising a multicultural family:

Books

Our children are young, so short books have been the main source of introducing them to Spanish. We started with a few classics like Goodnight Moon/Buenas Noches, Luna. We’ve also really enjoyed the books by Lil’ Libros because they not only are bilingual, but also feature significant places and people in Latin American culture. My husband, who does not speak Spanish often reads these books to them, and I think it’s been invaluable that they see both parents making an effort to help them learn the language.

Art and Music

My husband and I both love history and art, so it’s been very easy to incorporate both art and music into our children’s lives. Aside from trips to the museum, we also have artisan work around our home, from the rebozo (a Mexican shawl) hanging in our living room to the silver arracada earrings I wear that originate from the region my mother’s family is from. My husband makes modern day mixed tapes and playlists for the boys with music that ranges from Irish folk songs to Mexican rancheras. And I’ll be honest, I was pretty proud when my eldest’s favorite song was a cumbia I loved.

Food

Meals have been such a fantastic way of introducing our children to different cultures, as I’m sure it is for many families. I’ll admit I haven’t been particularly adventurous outside of brats and sauerkraut, but I hope to work on that. I come from a family that loves cooking so much, we’ve made it a profession. We are serious about food. My kids love burritos, partake in preparing tamales at Christmas—a tradition my sister-in-law has joined in on—and will eat almost anything we put in a taco, nopales included. We make it a point that our family tries new things, and gives them a chance.

Travel

I have yet to see the Grand Canyon, or the giant Sequoia trees in my home state. But my parents valued time with our family and I spent almost every summer of my life in Mexico before I got married. The sacrifices my parents’ made to ensure I got to know the land they came from is one of the greatest gifts they ever gave me. I will still remember the pat-pat of my grandma making handmade tortillas, the taste of the pods from the mesquite trees, and the smell of the dirt after a summer storm. It was magical.

We travel annually to visit my family in California, and have also taken our boys to Mexico. Our visits are several weeks long, so it’s less vacation and more “doing life” in a different place with people we love. I can only hope that their memories of our days in the places of my youth will be as magical as mine are.

Our hope is that in acknowledging and embracing our cultural differences, we will ensure that our children will grow up with a strong sense of personal identity. I know some of my sons may not always be judged by their character, and they may face challenges because of their ethnic background or skin color, and at the same time my other sons may benefit from it. Ultimately, I pray that they will grow to be compassionate men, who can see clearly the beauty in all cultures and people.

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8 Comments

  1. Janine

    I’m 2nd/3rd generation American, though my family all crossed the other border to get here. 😉 I have lovely memories of my grandparents speaking French to each other, my parents, and to all the grandkids, but it was the food and music culture that I’ve tried the hardest to maintain within my own family life. My mom’s family were all musicians, and the French Canadian folk music was a huge part of my growing up experience, in particular. My husband’s family seems to have so little connection to their cultures-of-origin, and I have always found that so sad. I’m glad I’m not the only one out there trying to be intentional about passing on an appreciation of our ancestral cultures to our children!

    Reply
  2. Eric May

    Who isn’t ethnically multicultural? Do you want an award for it?

    Reply
    • Tracy

      Eric your response seems rude and unnecessary.

      Reply
  3. KC

    Thank you for these ideas on how to more deliberately (but non-painfully) include cultural knowledge in kids’ lives! I don’t even have any kids yet, but this has me thinking about what things from my culture(s) that I really would want to preserve to some degree and how to go about doing that…

    Reply
  4. Sarah Ochoa

    Thank you for the lovely ideas (especially the book ideas) and for being candid about the issue- my children are also multi-racial and multicultural and because of where we live, New Mexico, it isn’t a huge challenge to surround them with Mexican music, food, and language. We don’t bring the language into our house as often as I would like because my husband (third generation) isn’t a fluent Spanish speaker and we both regret that. We hope, after diapers are done, to both take classes.
    Something you said struck me because we experience it- two of our boys are very dark, one is truly mixed, and one is (surprise!) blonde haired and blue eyed and whiter than me. We have had whispered conversations, especially in the last three years which have brought so much ugliness in our country to the surface, about privilege and some of our kids getting it and others not. In other words, we worry about the different ways they’ll be treated. How you celebrate all the places they come from so they all have a strong pride in their identity is commendable and an example for me to follow.

    Reply
  5. Sarah Takehara

    Jacqui, thank you for this lovely article. I so admire the effort and intention you and your husband are pouring into your family. Our world truly is a melting pot and yet as we all know, things often feel more divisive than ever. We need more thoughtful articles like yours!

    My husband is Japanese-American; his parents moved from Japan to California in their early 20s and his father had some extended family already settled in the U.S. My husband has always spoken to our children in Japanese and they have attended a small, local Japanese language school once a week for several years.

    My ethnic background is similar to your husband’s and while my ties to the countries of my ancestors aren’t as strong as my husband’s are to Japan, we still weave music, literature, film, and food from my background in wherever we can.

    A few years ago, we took an especially poignant trip to Heart Mountain in Wyoming-a Japanese internment camp where some of my husband’s family members had been interned. We were even given a copy of the intake records with the names of his family members listed. It was powerful, humbling, and moving. And such a powerful reminder of the irrevocable damage that racism, bigotry, and ignorance can do.

    As human beings, we owe it to ourselves and to each other to learn about the cultural backgrounds of our partners, friends, neighbors, teachers, and co-workers. I’m grateful for people like you, who are exposing their children to the beauty of diversity and the spirit of human connection. What lucky children you are raising!

    Reply
  6. Jen

    Thank you for this article and the accompanying podcast. Your experiences shared are helping me think through how we are raising our baby (she’s the daughter of a Peruvian immigrant and a white Italian-American). We do not live in a particularly diverse area so l especially love the ideas about bringing the cultures into the home. I smiled when you mentioned the differences around ear piercing in the podcast–our family has had that discussion too!

    Reply
  7. Priya Singh

    Marvelous work!. The blog is brilliantly written and provides all necessary information I really like this awesome post. Thanks for sharing this useful post. 

    Reply

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