Sunday, June 10, 2007

Multicultural Children's Awareness Day


When my grandparents were young, even in the United States, the melting pot of cultures, the cultures hadn't yet melted together. My Nona was Italian. There were Irish people, German people, Chinese people, Polish people... Most kids who had been born in the USA were of their family's first generation to be born here.
My Nona married a man from Luxenburg. (What would that make him? Luxenburg-ish?) They had four children together, all who were half Italian. My mother married my dad, who came from a hodge-podge background of European ethnicities... and so my brother and I were only 25% Italian. Yet, growing up, we often referred to ourselves as Italian, or told people we were half Italian...and, we still do! Why? Part of it may have been that we spent more time with our mother's family. We went to all of the holiday gatherings at our Nona's house, complete with huge Italian dinners and tons of noisy relatives. We saw our Nona and Bopop almost every weekend. We could identify with them much better than we could with our father's family... we saw our grandmother only on holidays, our grandfather lived in Florida and we saw him maybe once every few years, and we had aunts, uncles and cousins who we had never laid eyes on. It was easier to identify with our boisterous Italian family than with our father's mysterious, withdrawn relatives!
(It may also have been because we just look Italian, with our olivy skin and dark hair!)
But I also think it was because we wanted that feeling of belonging. We wanted to know where we came from. I remember, in first grade, the kids in my class were assigned to learn how to say the word "thank you" in our family's native language, and teach it to the rest of the class.(Where my family lived then, a lot of the other children had actually been born in other countries!) My mom called up my Nona, who taught me to say "Grazie". That afternoon I rode my bike up and down the street, cheerfully yelling, "Grazie!" at my neighbors and anyone else I saw... I was so proud to have learned an Italian word! (In real life, my Nona had never taught her children to speak Italian, and she had actually started to forget the language herself!) On the other hand, I had already gotten a taste of America's blond-haired, blue-eyed ideals. I was once sitting at my Nona's kitchen table, coloring a picture of a generic-looking family in a coloring book. I carefully colored the mother's hair yellow. "Because mothers have blond hair," I mused outloud.
"Not all mothers have blond hair," my Nona said. She reminded me that she had black hair and my own mother had brown hair... in fact, every single person in our family, including all of the mothers, were dark-haired.
"But real mothers have blond hair," I insisted. Even though I was technically only one-quarter Italian, I still had an idea that I was a little different from most people.
Where am I going with all of this? I am stressing the importance of knowing and appreciating your own culture.
When people hear theword "Multicultural Child Awareness", they may think of chilren who are half Hispanic and half Chinese, or half African-American and half Caucasion, or whatever. But today, in the USA, just about every child is multicultural... yet they may feel as if they come from no culture at all. Culture is a beautiful thing, and it is something we all need to learn to appreciate and be proud of.It would be a great thing if every child could say things like, "I have black hair because I am Greek, but I have blue eyes because I am German." If every child had a chance to eat, at least on occasion, the foods that their grandparents and great-grandparents had learned to love in their native countries. If every child knew their own special blend of cultures, instead of shrugging and saying dismissively, "I'm a mutt!"
Today, on Multicultural Child Awareness Day, take your own multicultural children out and celebrate their backgrounds!

2 comments:

Kristi K. said...

My children are multicultural, and they are well aware of it. There is Irish and Native American (Arapaho) on my side, and African-American and Mexican on their dad's side. Sometimes people ask them if they are Italian or Latino...they just say, "We're multi-racial." ;)

I really enjoyed this post! What a lot of fun to read!

Mark Steidler said...

Thanks for your post on multiculturalism!

The reason I’m reaching out is to see if you’d like to receive a Maya & Miguel Cinco de Maya DVD. I’m working on a marketing project with Scholastic to raise awareness about cultural diversity, language learning and even supporting a soccer tournament http://pbskids.org/mayaandmiguel/english/stunts/kickit/index.html by connecting with parents like you that are publishing great content.

If you’d like to receive the DVD, just email me at mark@boldmouth.com with your address and I’ll have it shipped it out to you. If you do choose to get the Maya & Miguel DVD and decide to blog about, please make it clear how you received the DVD. Our goal is to be open and honest with everyone we reach.

Additionally, if you’d like to add Maya & Miguel images from the show on your blog you can pick them up here - http://www.boldmouth.com/maya_and_miguel/


All the best,

Mark Steidler, BoldMouth