I am a blonde-haired, blue-eyed girl who was raised in a small town of 600 people in northwest Pennsylvania. Our little town had very little diversity. You could say our diversity came in the form of cows and people. So, as a Spanish teacher, when I tell my students and their families where I was grew up they ask, “How did you become fluent in Spanish?” as they furrow their brows and try to imagine a connection. I explain to them about my four years of high school Spanish and my wonderful professors and friends in college, most of whom were native speakers of Spanish. I narrate for them my fond memories of my trips to study abroad and find adventure in Spain, Costa Rica, Nicaragua, and the Dominican Republic. However, one of connections that I recently have realized that I neglect to tell them about is that ofmy own family’s heritage and how it has played a great role in leading me to my love of cultures, languages and eventually to my career choice to teach foreign language.
I am a 4th generation Swedish-American. My maternal great-great-grandparents came from Sweden in the 1800s and moved to upstate New York, where they raised their children in a predominantly Swedish community. I clearly remember so many of the wonderful moments I spent with my mom, aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and great-grandparents celebrating our Swedish culture. Our time was filled with community cultural events, holiday traditions, Swedish expressions, poems, dances, decorations, and especially the glorious, butter-laden, beautifully presented foods. My grandparents would tell me about growing up listening to Swedish being spoken all the time at home, about church services in Swedish, and would show me the keepsake belongings and fragile black and white pictures of my great-great-grandparents who had immigrated here four generations ago. As a young girl, all of these experiences gave me something invaluable: an identity. I was proud and grateful to understand my heritage and know where I belonged. They also gave me something I believe led me to become a Spanish teacher: a keen curiosity for cultures and an ear for languages.
Do your kids know their heritage? Are they curious about their ancestors and how they came to our country? I share my personal memories with you in hopes that you and your children are inspired to explore together your family’s own heritage and identity. Consider doing one of these activities together with your kids to help them learn more about their cultural heritage:
- Take some time this weekend to call relatives and reminisce about old memories and loved ones. Start conversations with parents and grandparents about what it was like growing up when they were kids.
- Find an old family recipe or a traditional dish that you and your kids can make and enjoy together or go to a restaurant where traditional meals are served. Let your kids ask questions to the waiters or chefs about the food and its history.
- Create a piece of artwork that uses a country’s traditional methods, styles, or a flag colors.
- Dig through boxes of keepsakes that you might have stored in a closet. Share the stories connected to them with your kids.
- Have a movie night together to watch a foreign film that was made in the country of your heritage.
- Investigate traditional and/or modern music from your country and listen to it while relaxing at home or even play it in the car while running errands.
- And even search together for information on your family’s heritage at www.ancestry.com.
I hope that reading this has left you curious to explore culture and create memories! Teachers (and tutors) love educating your kids but the experiences that you can share and teach your kids will be invaluable to both of you for years to come!