Hispanic Heritage Month: Connecting Our Children to Their RootsMari Hernandez-Tuten
“A tree without roots will fall over.” ~unknown
The colors, voices, faces, accents, and flavors of my country are some of the ties that are deeply rooted in me. It doesn’t matter that the minute I open my mouth to speak Spanish I sound like a first grader, or that I don’t eat tortillas every night or have La Virgen Maria on my wall. Regardless, I am Mexican, and my roots run deeper than those iconic items — it runs through my veins.
I remember the first time we returned to Mexico for a visit. I was in upper elementary, and I clearly recall thinking, “I don’t fit in here either.” I was disappointed. I was confused. I was angry. Up to that point, I had only hoped that Mexico was where I would finally feel accepted and connected, but it wasn’t. I soon realized that I would never be Mexican enough, nor would I ever be “American” enough, but I had the choice to make the best of both worlds.
I grew up speaking Spanish in mi casa and eating tortillas at every meal, laughing hysterically at El Chavo and spending every weekend with my family. But I also enjoyed The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, eating turkey at Thanksgiving (with beans and rice, mind you), and preferring Santa Claus over Los Tres Reyes Magos. Both cultures collided within our pink walls.
As a first generation Hispanic growing up in the United States, I was confronted with the challenge of not only understanding American culture, but also helping my parents juggle both worlds and find their place in the U.S. They didn’t expect me to, but it was my duty as their bilingual child.
I wore cute little ruffled dresses, tights, and of course, my braided pigtails to keep my long hair from getting tangled, and at the young age of 4, I was already armed with boxing gloves. I was learning to fight and overcome the stereotypes that come with being Hispanic. Standing up for my mom, translating for her, and feeling the racial tension as I strived to create an identity for not only myself, but also for my family — this was a normal day in my little world. I don’t share this with you so you’ll feel sorry for me. On the contrary, I share this because thanks to God, it’s made me into the strong, courageous, and compassionate woman that I am today.
Though I must admit, the tension quickly drove me to find ways to blend with the world around me like dying my hair blonde only to discover that it turned reddish orange. But the minute I walked through the doors of mi casa, I entered my comfort zone, my mother tongue, and our Latino values and traditions. I am so thankful to my parents for raising me in the values and traditions of our Latino culture, though sometimes as a teenager it meant feeling embarrassed.
Yes, the walls of my home were pink, and for most of my teenage years, I begged my mom to paint the walls a “normal” color.
Yes, I ate tortillas every single night at dinner.
Yes, I hung out with my family all the time.
Yes, I spoke Spanish at home, and no, it didn’t delay my understanding of the English language.
Yes, I grew up with a strong work ethic.
Yes, I have fond memories of piñatas, laughter, and lively parties and dancing.
Yes, my mother will try to stuff your face with her amazing cooking if you come to visit.
Yes, our parents’ approval and wisdom is of utter importance in our life, no matter how old we are.
These are some of the beautiful things my parents passed on to me. So give your children this priceless gift, and find ways to connect your kids to the culturally rich roots that make up who you are.
“How will our children know who they are if they do not know where they came from?” ~unknown
Here are a couple of practical ways you can do this:
- Make a family tree and write out the names of your family heritage to let your children know where they come from. If you have pictures, add those. Here’s a kid-friendly family tree activity over at Inspired by Familia.
- Read a kid-friendly book that teaches culture and traditions. Here’s a wonderful Top 10 List of Picture Books that help teach Hispanic culture and traditions.
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