This article is part of the “Raising Resilient Kids” series – a partnership with the RESilience Initiative of the American Psychological Association. Each article features science-informed tips and resources for African American parents on how to build resilience in our kids.
People come to America from all over the world, bringing with them their cultures, traditions, and values. Nonetheless, there is a culture here that is distinctly “American” that all who migrate to America must adapt to. That adjustment can be difficult for some adults, and it becomes even more complex when you have children.
It is challenging to raise an American child when you are not American. You are already dealing with your own struggles adapting to American culture and now you must find a way to blend both cultures for a child who only has a direct connection to one of them. Additionally, the world is not the same as it was when you were growing up. Some aspects of your native culture and values may seem outdated even to young people from your homeland, thus creating a generational divide between you and your child.
Furthermore, as the world becomes more globally connected, and people from different cultures have children together, it can be difficult to find a balance between the cultures in the home and American culture. After all of that, the ultimate challenge is figuring out how best to share your culture to make it part of your child’s identity without interfering too much in their own self-discovery.
Keep in mind that as difficult as the cultural socialization process is for you, it is just as tough for your child. He or she must find the delicate balance between familial values, societal values, and their own developing value system.
While these challenges may seem daunting, research has shown that bicultural children who do manage to find that balance develop well both academically and socially. Therefore, if you plant the cultural seed well, you may have a little Trini-American, Jamaican-American, Ghanaian-American on your hands.
How to Plant the Seed
The best way to fuse that home culture with the American culture is to take a trip home. There is nothing more powerful than experiencing the authentic culture, firsthand, in the country of origin. If that is not possible, no need to worry, there are plenty of ways to bring your homeland home to you.
Language is one of the easiest or most obvious. For parents from non-English speaking countries, this is straightforward, just speak your native language. For parents from English-speaking countries, although you might speak the same language as your host country, the way you speak it is inherently different. Be sure to speak with your native accent and use phrases and sayings that are common in your home country but may not typically be heard in America.
Food can be incorporated into your household meals to give your children a taste of home. Every culture has dishes that are unique to them, such as ackee and saltfish for Jamaicans, feijoada for Brazilians, and chitterlings for African Americans. Even if the dish is not solely unique to your culture, the taste certainly is. Take for instance the never-ending debate about who makes the best jollof rice (Nigeria, Ghana, Cameroon, etc.).
Music is an integral part of most cultures. Musical styles like calypso, salsa, samba, and Afrobeat have unique origins in the Caribbean, South America and, Africa. Even hip hop and rap have started to incorporate aspects of other music styles to create the next hit song. Playing music from your native country while cleaning, driving or just hanging out with your children is a fun and easy way to share your culture with your children.
Festivals tie all the previously mentioned elements together since many of them have special music, food, and sometimes phrases that make up the celebration. Make the effort to keep up with your native celebrations. If you are fortunate enough to live in a city where the immigrant population is large and public events are hosted to celebrate traditional festivals, join in the fun with your children.
The End Product
It is easy to believe that after using all these tactics to share your culture with your child, it will become an important part of who they are and something they express every chance they get. For some, this will be the case and they may choose to proudly display that culture in the following ways:
- Speaking in their native language, accent or using cultural sayings
- Preference for certain foods
- Listening to native music on their own
- Wearing a symbol of cultural pride such as a bracelet with your country’s colors
But, as the old saying goes, “you make the child, not their mind”. While your influence and the outside world’s are significant, it is ultimately up to your child to decide how to navigate and bridge the gap between the multiple cultures that are part of their life. Be patient and be open to a fusion of your culture with others. It may not look exactly like what you pictured but by using the tools mentioned above, you are broadening your child’s world view and helping them create a more inclusive and well-rounded identity.
Nguyen, A. M. D., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2013). Biculturalism and adjustment: A meta-analysis. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44(1), 122-159.