Our next guest blogger is Marly Hinestroza-Gaviria! Let’s welcome her as she introduces us into the ways of keeping heritage while raising bi-cultural children.
Growing up, the soundtrack playing to my adolescent years was the very popular Colombian phrase, “¿si todas se tiran por un puente usted se va a tirar tambien pues?” (Translation: If they all throw themselves off a bridge you’re going to throw yourself off too then?) This seemed to be my mom’s response to everything I ever asked and I hated it. I felt like I couldn’t do what seemed like every American teen my age was doing because that’s not how it was done in Colombia… but we weren’t in Colombia anymore! Not long ago, I uttered the same words to my 9 year old when she asked if she could go to the nail salon with her friend and her friend’s mom. When I said no, she pleaded, “but why, all my friends get to paint their nails any color they want and some even get fake nails at the salon. It’s not fair!” My response was out before my brain caught up and I almost laughed knowing I sounded just like my mom. The urge to laugh didn’t last long once I realized that my 9 year old was not amused and I saw boil up in her the same feelings of unfairness and annoyance that I had felt towards my mom…except now it was directed at me.
Since then I’ve been thinking about the struggle many second generation immigrant parents face (first generation and second generation are terms sometimes used interchangeably to refer to the children of those adults who emigrated from their country). We struggle with wanting our children to develop their own self-identity, fear of the isolating feelings we ourselves experienced as teens and not wanting our children to be labeled or discriminated against. This Youtube short documentary interviews four second generation immigrants now as young adults and they discuss the challenges they faced and how they constructed their identity from both cultures. Despite all the challenges, many of us still do have a deep desire to share our culture of origin with our children, instill pride and raise well-adjusted bi-cultural children.
How then can second-generation immigrant parents raise well-adjusted, bi-cultural children? How can we walk the tight rope between fostering self-identity while instilling our cultural pride, which is a different culture than the one our children are living in? And how can we navigate the cultural clashes that we experienced?
To begin with, take a deep breath…inhale…exhale! As with most parenting conundrums, there are options to be explored and as the expert of your own family you’ll find what works best for you. Keep in mind that our children, third generation, will more than likely not feel as conflicted between the two cultures as we did because they ultimately have a stronger American identity than we did or do. Our children were born here and so were their parents (or at least we have spent over half of our lives here at this point); a University of California study thoroughly explores protective and risk factors for us second generation immigrants and how this impacts us and therefore our children. One protective factor is community, and our children most likely have stronger community ties than we did growing up and will presumably feel comfortable being Americans while still paying homage to another culture. Additionally, we are living in the age of information and there is a great deal of material out there to help us tackle this challenge. One of my favorite sites is Hybrid Parenting, a site that provides resources and information to empower parents in providing “children with an accurate and meaningful understanding of our multicultural world.”
Let your children become excited about the culture by choosing what things they find most exciting – whether it is the food, dress, religion or language! We know that children do best when they are excited about the topic or endeavor (as we adults do as well) so emphasize those areas and expose them to other areas without imposing them. If your children enjoy the foods of your culture look for food festivals, recipes you can make together or explore restaurants that sell your food. You can even make this a fun challenge when you and your family are away on vacation! One of my favorite things is finding Colombian restaurants in other states, I’ve even found one in Hawai’i, Coquito’s Latin Cuisine! Part of allowing your children to choose what parts of each culture to embrace is for you to also become excited about different aspects of the culture. As second generation immigrants, chances are that there are a great deal of things we still don’t know or fully understand about our culture, so have some fun researching and learning along with your child. Your enthusiasm, wonder and awe at learning new things will rub off on them.
As with all things parenting, there will be some non-negotiables; determine what your family’s non-negotiables are and make sure these are clear and consistent. You may now be asking yourself, how do I let my children choose but then turn around have non-negotiables? I know, parenting sometimes makes no sense! We know that children do better when they have structure and limited choices and this applies to many things. This is part of being flexible and giving them some choices while still maintaining that structure and consistency that communicates safety. If your children know that you’re willing to be flexible with some areas, they’ll be more likely to accept your non-negotiables in the process. Also, remember what it was like growing up and being the odd one out because the “cool” things most of your American friends were doing was just not how “it’s done back in Colombia (insert country of origin)?” If you need to take a trip down memory lane, check out this Buzzfeed article that will surely remind you that the struggle was, and still is real. I remember being 13 and desperately wanting to wax my eyebrows and shave my legs because “all my friends are doing it!” My parents were adamant about not allowing this until I was 15 and so I suffered a hairy fate for another two years. I remember classmates poking fun about this and I’ve resolved that although my daughters will not wear make up until they are 15, if facial and body hair is a source of discomfort, I will exercise flexibility to save them from the embarrassment. (You’re welcome Melany and Sofia.)
Ultimately parents want to raise well-rounded and well-adjusted children and one way to achieve this is to expose them to the world at large. Exposing your children to your culture of origin will allow them to broaden their worldviews and increase their ability of perspective taking. Exposing your children to your culture and others will allow them to be more tolerant, to celebrate differences and more importantly to embrace their own differences!
Marly A. Hinestroza-Gaviria, LCSW
Ms. Hinestroza-Gaviria is a Resilience Trainer for FOCUS Hawaii working with military families and couples. Marly has worked as a certified Multidimensional Family Therapist with adolescents and their families dealing with adolescent high-risk behaviors and/or substance abuse. She has experience working with children from infancy to adolescence and their families providing assessments, individual and family therapeutic interventions, service coordination and crisis intervention. Marly earned her Master of Social Work degree from Rutgers University in New Jersey.
Jennifer Taylor, LCSW, RPT is an experienced child and family therapist and public speaker who specializes in trauma, ADHD, and conduct problems. Discover more about her diverse clinical background and family. Reach out to Jennifer with questions or comments by emailing at firstname.lastname@example.org
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