Culture is the learned and shared behavior of members of society. It varies widely in different parts of the world and it is constantly changing rapidly over time. Cultural variations occur in many aspects of behavior including child rearing. As parents, we are responsible to show our children respect for our own culture as well as others. But what happens when a child is removed from her/his culture of origin and brought to a new culture? How can that “new culture” be integrated into their life without neglecting their past?
In my native country of Puerto Rico, I never experienced cultural conflicts. I was taught not to judge people by their race. Every one in Puerto Rico was a Puerto Rican, no one was excluded. I was always in the majority. I could intellectualize the pain of minorities in other countries but I could not experience it or describe it on a personal level. As a child raised in Puerto Rico, I was unaware of the United States’ ways of thinking about different cultures. As an adult living in the United States, I recognize how cultural differences can separate and limit a society. If approached positively and thoughtfully, however, cultural differences can enrich and empower our way of life.
How can immigrant parents like me facing racism, teach our children to be proud of their culture and respect others? How can we teach our children to respond to the racism that permeates our society without loosing faith in people?
We need to start examining ourselves. Parents, as well as others who raise our children, often transfer them deeply rooted biases that we hold toward one group of people, or against another. Many of the things we teach our children we do unconsciously and automatically. Be careful how you judge people because you are the most influential figure in your child’s life. Your child adopts your biases and, according to them, begins to pre-judge people.
Once you are conscious of your biases and have controlled them, It is time to act. It is never too late to parent against prejudice and it’s never too late to teach our kids to fight against it.
Immigrant families face a unique dilemma in raising their children. For example, Latinos who were raised in the United States of America have a dual identity. They were influenced by both their parents’ ancestry and culture in addition to the American culture in which they live.
Growing up in between two very different cultures creates a great problem, because they cannot identify completely with either culture and are also caught between the Spanish and English languages.
Parents raising these kids need to be aware of the struggles these kids will confront and anticipate them. They also need to encourage their children to appreciate the value of having experienced two different cultures. Their “dual culture” is itself a culture; something that can be appreciated for its unique qualities.
Every culture has its strengths and weaknesses. It is important that our children recognize and acknowledge those things with an open mind in order to restore peace in our society. We need a change.
Each generation brings with it another chance to restore balance to our world. Let’s raise our children without twisting their minds with adult fears and falsehoods. We have a long way to go! Let’s start changing today.
1. Find a partner and ask him/her everything he or she knows about another culture or group. Use examples as Asian culture, Mexican Culture, Aging drivers or women of color. Reflect in the answers and watch for stereotypes.
2. Create a family tree with your children and talk about your family of origin.
3. Celebrate your traditions and learn about traditions of other cultures.
4. Choose a culture per month to study with your kids, you can decorate their rooms about the culture they are learning and even eat different food. But please find the real truth about those holidays you are celebrating.
5. Enroll your child in a multiracial school.
6. Encourage your children to learn a different language.
7. Be a role model for your children. NEVER, said something judgmental about other culture in front of the kids.
And most important, don’t pretend discrimination doesn’t exist. Talk to your children about this before someone else talk to them.
Nilmari Donate-Melendez is the founder of HKC Parenting & School Consulting Services and the President of Happy Kids Chicago, Inc. Nilmari holds a Bachelors in Community Health Education from Universidad de Puerto Rico, Medical Science Campus, and a Masters in Parenting Education and Support from DePaul University. She is a certified Community Health Educator, and has received certification in Asthma Education, Behavioral Skills Counseling, Nutrition & Fitness Education and Mental Health First Aid Training. Additionally, Nilmari is certified for Active Parenting and Mental Health First Aid. Originally from Caguas, Puerto Rico, Nilmari has three children and one pet dog KIMO.