It wasn’t until I moved to a country where I meet very few Latinas that I became extremely proud of my roots. Don’t get me wrong, I was proud to be from Puerto Rico and Mexico before I moved to New Zealand or Australia… but being Latinx in a country that constantly puts down your people was exhausting. If it wasn’t politicians on the news griping about “those illegals,” it was the whispers you heard as people talked about Latin America in a disparaging way - my ex’s father once said I was a “good Mexican” because we came over legally, I hadn’t gotten pregnant as a teenager, and I hadn’t gotten in trouble with the law.
I’ve talked about my past struggles with mi Latinidad and how my parents tried to help us ‘blend in’ with American kids by speaking English to us and making sure we dressed “appropriately” so nobody would fault us for our Hispanic last name(s). C and I have been discussing our future and I’ve been reflecting on some of the ways that I want to expose my kids to the Latinx culture in a country that sorely lacks it.
There is really nothing that compares to being immersed in Latinx cultura and language by living in one of the countries that proudly boasts both. My childhood was full of fiestas, familia, delicious comida and learning exactly what it meant to be a Latina. It was easy to understand the pride and culture of our people behind the bandera as I cheered “¡Wepa!” or “¡Viva México!”
But there was no pride in being Mexican or Puerto Rican when we moved to the USA. There is only 4.5 years difference between my younger brother and I, so while I remember our time in Mexico he doesn’t – his only home has been the United States. To fit in, our familia became pretty Americanized, speaking fluent English and preferring to speak it at home, too, until my mother realized our Spanish was broken when we spoke to our grandparents in Puerto Rico.
I know why we moved to the USA… my parents wanted a better way of life for our family, and we definitely got that! But I can’t help but feel that it’s almost as if we moved away not only from our roots but the very things that the Latinx community holds dear (such as community and cultural unity. These days people thing that arroz y frijoles (rice and beans) and listening to Daddy Yankee or El Conejo Malo is what decrees someone as “Latinx” but there’s more to the fabric of our culture than just that – it is rich in history, art, music, folklore and mouth-watering cuisines! My favorite childhood memories are the large family gatherings where the music was blaring, the voices were loud, and the food was delicious (like my Tata’s arroz con gandules with lechón - chickpeas and rice with pork – where I picked out all of the gandules). Those experiences are what molded my understanding of our culture, where our parents came from, and what being Latinx meant. We never had that in Americanized settings…
It is not enough to remind my kids that they are Latin and to remind them that some of the things that we do are because we are Latin, we have to show them what it means to be a Latino. Being a Latino includes a rich cultural heritage that is made up of an array of cultural practices that span across a vast network of native Spanish-speaking countries. Although all Latinos do not originate from the same country, we have an unspoken brotherhood that binds us by way of a common language and a common history. It is this pride and this brotherhood that I hope to teach my kids. My hope is that C and I will be able to lay a foundation that will be strong enough to influence future generations of our family. This is one of the legacies that we want to leave our children. Our hope is that we can raise our kids to be in touch with their Latinx roots and heritage while also being proud Australians.
The reality is we will probably live in an area that is not culturally diverse in terms of Latinx, Black, and Indigenous families. In fact, we’ll probably be one of the only Latinx families we know – I’d be super surprised if there were any Latinx kids in their classrooms. So, it will be especially important to find opportunities to expose them to la cultura and allow them to make their own connections to their roots.
One of the biggest ties to my countries is the Spanish language. It’s a misconception that all Latinxs are fluent speakers, readers, writers of Español – many are not (that doesn’t make them any less Latinx). However, I’d love for my kids to be bilingual! Thanks to audio books, YouTube videos, podcasts, and apps like Duolingo (that’s what C uses to learn; I’m using it for French) it’s easy to squeeze a daily Spanish lesson together. We’ve also decided that at home C will speak to them in English while I speak to them in Spanish.
2. Multicultural books & characterS
It is great when children grow up identifying themselves with characters like them. Growing up I don't remember reading books with characters I could identify with, but I do remember growing up watching Pokemon (in Spanish), El Chavo del Ocho, Que Pasa USA, and Sesame Street (in Spanish). Today there are so many great books and characters. Read to them and then read some more. If you can read to them in Español, even better! Here are some multicultural books that I can’t wait to one day put in their personal libraries:
3. Use Music
I am a music nerd at heart (in fact, I was in band for over a decade). So it’s not uncommon to find me dancing in the kitchen or around the house to some Maluma, Pitbull, Maná, Marc Anthony, Nicky Jam, and old school Andrea Bocelli, Celia Cruz, Carlos River, Luis Miguel, rancheras, boleros… you get the idea. I think it’s going to be vital to expose our kids to the sounds of Latinx culture at home since you never hear any on Australian radio stations. Plus, it’ll help them learn Spanish in a fun way.
Want something G-rated? There are some great bilingual playlists on YouTube for children's songs in Español.
I think this is the part that C is most excited for because he loves cooking and can’t wait to get into the kitchen with my parents to learn some of our more ‘traditional’ meals. What better way to foster a connection between a culture and a family for generations than delicious foods like tamales, hand-made tortillas, conchas, and other treats! I’m lucky to have some family recipes that have been passed down (like Titi Lulu’s flan and bacalao) and I can’t wait to continue the tradition.
But it’s not just about cooking at home! We are big foodies so we like going to new restaurants and if it has food from Latin America on the menu, chances are C and I are in there engorging ourselves. In Sydney, we regularly go to Empanadas Factory where we pick up empanadas de queso y guayaba (cheese and guava) along with one of my favorite sodas- Guaraná; my dad used to have it in the fridge a lot growing up, so every sip is like being transported home.
Recently mom sent a package to Australia that literally just had seasonings for C and he was over the freaking moon… and very confused as to why he got a candle with a virgin on it. My parents also send me care packages from home that include ingredients and seasonings I don’t normally get in Australia – like Adobo!
5. La comunidad (community)
When I lived in Wellington, New Zealand one way I was able to get involved with the Mexican comunidad there was to connect with the local embassy. They frequently had cultural events, programs, classes, and festivals… I went to a few and felt like I was receiving a hug from a long, lost friend whenever they did el grito or the Mexican anthem played. I hope to do the same in Australia, giving the family an opportunity to speak in Español or at least listen to people outside the house speaking it.
6. Family Fiestas & TraveL
Living in Australia means the family reunions will be few and far in between… those airline tickets aren’t cheap! But thank goodness for virtual gathering, am I right? When we can’t step into the house with our familia in person, we can at least all enjoy some good food and banter via a computer screen. C and I have also discussed how often we want to return to the USA/Puerto Rico/Mexico so I can go back home but he and the kids can be exposed to these beautiful places. My hope is that we can have large family gatherings then – loud music, louder people, good food, and sharing stories from lifetimes ago.
The memories we make at these events will be held dear, but I want to make sure we document them for us to reflect on later. My dad recently loaded a bunch of documents onto my hard drive of our family: old birthday parties, pictures of relatives I had never met or heard of (dad’s really into piecing together our family tree right now), and even old videos of my grandmother who had died almost a year ago. It was the first time I had heard her voice in a while or seen her face and I burst into tears… I will treasure those memories (even though most are not mine) forever.
At the end of the day I don’t know if my kids will speak perfect Spanish or prefer to make tortillas at home over getting a burger. I just want to not only be honouring our ancestors and famila's history but expose them to a part of themselves and their history they otherwise wouldn’t see. At the end of the day, I just want them to be proud of their roots and heritage.
How do you maintain pride for your heritage (Latinx or other)?
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Hi! I'm Melissa, an Australian-based Latina science educator, podcaster, and freelance writer. I spend a lot more time on Instagram and Twitter, but blogging is my first love. Thanks for stopping by — I hope you stay a while.
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