When it comes to teaching my daughter about her cultural heritage, I have been a bit of a slacker. A little while back, I wrote about my Italian upbringing. My parents emigrated to this country, but my sister and I were born in the states. My dad learned to speak English very well, but my mom never cared to learn. Not because she did not want to learn (she always knew more than she let on), but so as to preserve the language and culture in our home. Growing up, we had to speak Italian at the dinner table or else risk getting “the look” from my mom. While this seemed annoying at times, especially when we had friends over, in retrospect, it is one of the best gifts I received from my parents.
However, my daughter has not been exposed to the language since dad passed away and we only see my mom about once a week. I seem to have lost bits of the language since I do not speak it everyday and it seems daunting as a working mom to teach my kid a foreign language since I am not at home with her all day like my mom was with me. Sure, I teach her phrases here and there, but nothing consistent.
The other day though, I had an epiphany. As I observed my daughter watching an episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse while eating Japanese take-out in her princess t-shirt, I realized she was more American as apple pie, rather than a little Italian cannoli. While I thank my lucky stars everyday that my parents raised us in America (the modern plumbing alone makes me thankful!), I still think my sweet pea is missing out on some of the cool things about her Italian heritage. So, I thought maybe if I infuse it in small ways, in the long run it will make a difference.
I decided we would take baby steps in this process. I went online and ordered Italian flashcards! I will teach her one word at a time. One day those words will turn into sentences. Those sentences turning into conversations. I also got some great Italian children’s books and will invest in the Berlitz products.
Like I did when I was her age, on Sunday mornings Mia will wake to her mother blasting the greats: Luciano Pavarotti, Andrea Bocelli, and Toto Cutugno (my mom’s favorite). All the while, the smell of cooking tomato sauce will permeate the air saying “Buon Giorno!”
I will do my best to preserve the sacred Sunday dinner and I will let my little one help me cook. We cannot let the family recipe for my mom’s famous meatballs end with me.
Someday, when she is old enough to remember, we will take that trip to Sicily where many of our family members live. Mia will meet all the uncles, aunts, and cousins that do not know her, but love her nonetheless. She will walk the streets of the small town deep in the heart of Sicily where her grandparents were born and raised. Her lips will taste true Italian gelato and she will swim in the salty Mediterranean Sea!
Heck, while I am it, we will teach her many of the wonderful things about her Irish and Scottish heritage on her father’s side (good thing we don’t have to worry about the language on that one). Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents will be so proud!
Thinking about how I will teach my daughter about her heritage reminded me that taking things one day at a time will yield a positive result. I do not need to feel overwhelmed or burdened with the responsibility to be an ambassador of tradition and culture. I need to embrace it and share it with love and patience.
What ways do you teach your kids about cultural diversity and tradition? Ciao everybody!
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