Multicultural Mamas: Jessica

Jessica and I met in the hospital with our one week old newborns in our arms. In that sleep deprived memory, I think she heard us speaking Spanish and it prompted conversation (because it’s THAT RARE in our area!) We remet when our family started attending our current church and Jessica (y su familia) quickly become dear friends, as we now share cenas together regularly as part of a Spanish speaking small group. It’s an honor to have her share her story here and I pray that it’s an encouragement to all who seek to raise their families to celebrate multiple cultures.

Ventura Family

I snuggled in bed with my son Austin on his third birthday and opened “Un Dia de Nieve.” Una mañana de invierno Peter se despertó y miró por la ventana. Había caído nieve durante la noche. Todo estaba cubierto hasta donde le alcanzaba la vista, the story began.

I had been thrilled to find the Spanish-language edition of Ezra Jack Keat’s award-winning “The Snowy Day” at our local used bookstore months ago. It wasn’t until this winter after Austin had heard stories about Christmas and snow, and had actually experienced his first snowfall of the season, that he took interest in the simple story of a young boy experiencing the joys of a fresh snowfall. I laughed to myself when I realized that in this one story Austin’s worlds came together. Austin’s dad is from Honduras, where Spanish is spoken but no snow falls and where parents don’t typically read bedtime stories to their children; I am from southern California and grew up surrounded by books, including “The Snowy Day”; and Austin and his little brother Caleb are growing up in snowy New England.

This fall someone described our family as being composed of a Hispanic father, a White mother, and two Hispanic boys. Really? Hispanic boys? What about their White mother? My immediate response was indignation that my ethnicity had disappeared from the equation. But the reality is that I don’t know if our children will grow up to be either White or Hispanic, or even gringacho (a mix of gringo and catracho). They are part of a generation who will have a difficult time checking any box in particular when asked their ethnicity. These days, one is better off identifying with the neighborhoods we grew up in rather than our race. This comment is not to mean my husband and I don’t take pride in where we come from or that we don’t try to instill that same pride in our children. We do. But during the third year of our son’s life, it has already become apparent that Austin will be just as influenced by our community as he is by the environment we create at home.

In reality, the environment we create at home is just as influenced by our community as it is by my husband and I. Take food as an example. When we first got married, Rafael called up his sister whenever he missed una comida típica. The two of us would follow her instructions to make the dish, so that the next time I would be able to make it on my own. Living in Texas, it was not difficult to find most of the Central American ingredients (although the cheeses and creams I found were often more Mexican than Honduran). Where we now live north of Boston, I have had to become more creative with ingredients. After two cities and eight years of evolution in my kitchen, every dish Dilcia has taught me has now taken on a North American flair – higher fiber, lower fat, different spices, parmesan cheese in place of queso fresco, etc..

Language, el idioma, is another example. Before Austin was born, we learned from parents who followed the “One Parent One Language” model for bilingual families that it was a struggle to get their children to speak anything but English once they started going to school. So my husband and I decided that we would both speak Spanish with our children. It was even easier when Rafael’s niece came from Honduras to live with us for three months at a time, once when Austin had turned a year old and once when he was two and a half years. But at three years old, Austin is starting to replace single words with sentences in English when he speaks to us. Rather than “Agua,” he tells me, “I want water.” He corrects me, “Not gradas, stairs.” It doesn’t help that with the arrival of Austin’s little brother (and with him, a loss of energy), I respond to my husband in English more and more. While I do not want to discourage my son’s current language development, I try to bolster the Spanish influences. The children’s room at our local library only has two Spanish titles for his age group, so I comb through the foreign languages box at the used bookstore for treasures like “Un Dia de Nieve.” I set the Netflix and Verizon settings to the Spanish language, so any cartoon that is dubbed in Spanish will automatically play on that setting (although most of his favorite shows are only in English). When his grandma wanted to buy him a kids tablet for Austin’s birthday, I made sure to get one with access to Spanish language learning games.

And then there is futbol. Rafael grew up playing the sport anytime he could get out of the house to the closest patch of green where the neighborhood boys were playing. He got into trouble so often for ruining his shoes that he would slip them off and play barefoot. Although I also spent hours outdoors with the neighborhood kids, I didn’t play soccer until my mom enrolled my siblings and I in recreational soccer. Since I never excelled athletically, I left organized sports behind once I reached eighth grade. Our sons only have the luxury of neighborhood free play half the year, when there is enough light and warmth after school hours for the neighborhood kids to be out on the sidewalk. Like it was for me, it will be difficult for them to find kids to play soccer with outside organized leagues. But since Rafael plays indoor soccer one or two times a week, the boys have the opportunity to join him on the sidelines. Already, Caleb often stays home with mom while Austin joins dad at his pickup games.

Regardless of these little struggles of bringing up our sons the way we’d hope to, the community our family has found since moving to Boston’s North Shore is one I am truly happy to raise my kids in. Although the majority of the families in our neighborhood could be described as White, they applaud our efforts to raise Austin and Caleb bilingual. And most of the families we spend time with are of foreign or mixed heritage: North, Central, and South American, Asian, African, Australian, and European. Since neither my family nor my husband’s live by, our close friends have become our family. We have made friends who model to our boys the highest two commandments in the Bible: loving God and loving their neighbor. The children do speak English together and the food we share does not promote any particular ethnic flavor; with these families in our lives, I am proud to watch our sons are grow up White, Hispanic, and a whole mix of other ethnicities.

Advertisements

Multicultural Mamas: Julia

I’m excited to introduce Julia to you today! She’s a fellow multi-cultural mama – having an Argentinian heart and husband. We actually went to college together, but have recently become reunited now that our chiquititos are in the same preschool.  I’m excited that they can speak Spanish with one another and our families can navigate this journey together 🙂

I emerged from the bedroom wearing my bathing suit and ready for an afternoon by the pool on a December day. My soon-to-be husband watched me with a critical eye.

“Mi amor, you cannot wear that!”

“What do you mean I cannot wear this?”

I was dressed in a modest black two-piece with what I thought to be a cute short bathing suit skirt.

“Take off the skirt”

He proceeded to pull at the skirt and then was onto my bathing suit bottoms as I swatted him away.

“And pull up the sides.” As he pulled he began to give me a wedgie. I was a white-bottomed girl from New England and my behind had never seen the sun!

“Trust me,” my fiancé said. How dare he care, let alone control, what I wear to the pool!

But as I walked outside and saw every women from 10 to 60 years old sporting thong bikinis I began to understand and realize that I needed to trust my ally that would help me navigate this new multicultural life.

Not every transition has been as shocking and embarrassing as strutting my first thong bikini with a white bottom on a beach in South America but I would say this marriage of cultures and languages has allowed me to be more confident in myself and more flexible in my priorities and ideas about life.

Julia's niños hermosos in under Argentinean flags.

Julia’s niños hermosos in under Argentinian flags.

We are currently raising two Castellano speaking (Argentine Spanish), matte drinking (Argentine tea) boys here in the United States. We are loving the adventure and I am learning to trust my ally (aka my husband) in much more than just wardrobe choices. We are learning how to make Spanish speaking a priority, time with family from Argentina happen, and how to give ownership of culture and language to our boys. We are determined that Argentina will not just be the country that their father is from but the country they are from. It is taking teamwork and commitment on both sides. It is hard work and can feel like another value that we are placing on the pile of expectations for our life. But then I hear my son ask, “Is our blood blue because we’re from Argentina?” And I know that it is sinking in. He feels ownership and believes our whole family is from Argentina even though his mom is learning right alongside her boys. And the struggle to learn Spanish and embrace a new culture is all worth it! Because this merge of two cultures, values and languages starts with me. If I embrace it and make it my own so will my boys. And so I begin to use Argentine slang (“vos sos re linda”), drink matte and travel thousands of miles to celebrate Christmas using different traditions even if I feel silly or it is challenging at times because this is our own version of how to build a bi-lingual, bi-cultural family.

 

Are you a multicultural mama that would be willing to share your story? Please be sure to contact me!

Multicultural Mamas: Ash

Ladies, I don’t know about you, but when I meet another mama that’s raising a family while celebrating more than one culture, I breathe a breath of fresh air. She gets me. She knows the struggles of “when do I speak English or Spanish/Arabic/Korean, etc.?”, “how will my kids be viewed by their peers?”,  and the everlasting argument in our household: “WHEN DO YOU OPEN CHRISTMAS GIFTS?” (obvs – Christmas morning 😉 

My heart’s desire is that this blog will be a platform to share other multicultural mamas’ stories – so we can learn together, pray for one another, and encourage each of us on our own unique journeys.

Today’s post is from my dear friend, Ash. We met at church a few years back and our daughters are only a few months apart. Ash’s story is such an inspiration – please be sure to check out her blog Love From Ash.

Ash + Family

I met my spouse through mutual friends. They were a Welsh couple that were of a parental age to both of us. They knew him for 10 years as he was their tenant here in the US. But they knew me in Canada where they came to enjoy their summer home.

At first they told me about him and I wasn’t interested. I loved Canada and didn’t feel like I wanted to go to another country to meet someone. But after 3 summers of their persistence, I agreed to let them introduce us. He was the first Ethiopian I met and I was the first Iraqi he’d ever got to know. We both left our countries and experienced what it was like to live in a foreign land.

We also both loved Jesus and shared a lot of the same values. I grew up in a nominal Muslim family and he grew up in a Christian Orthodox family. We both had to stand on our own two feet and leave the familiar within our family to follow Jesus (pick up our cross as it were). We both had our families reject our choices and then later accept us.

He met Jesus at age 14 on the streets of Ethiopia.  I met Jesus at age 18 in an Alpha course in England.  We both had our lives transformed by our encounters with Jesus.

We both came from cultures that did not encourage dating. We both wanted to wait for the right one to come along, but we both were not pro active in looking. We both trusted God that we will meet our future spouse if we wait on Him.

When I first met him in person for the very first time, he gave me a welcome hug, and for the first time in my life, I felt ‘home’.  That made me feel so much peace when I was with him.

Talking to him was so easy and he knew straight away I was the one. I didn’t know until after our wedding day, but that’s me, I doubt and question a lot. He on the other hand, once he makes up his mind, he just knows. I envy that about him.

I asked God to arrange an introduction for me, as my parents were not able to introduce me to eligible young men, as they were not Christians and did not have Christian friends. I had to trust God a lot, that He was leading me, and that He brought my spouse to me.

By saying I had to “trust a lot”, I mean that I doubted a lot and was always questioning whether this was God’s will or not.  I asked God for many signs. And He did give me many signs from seashells to dolphins and whales.

My friends were all for our relationship, but probably most of my doubts were a result of my spiritual parents not being around to meet him and to confirm to me that yes God is in fact bringing him into my life. I always imagined they would be there to do that very thing.

But they were not able to meet him due to their own personal problems which led to them moving away and not having the time to meet him online either. That was hard on me, as it made me have to decide for myself and trust that I’m hearing God for myself, which is always hard when it involves a matter of the heart.

So there we were both in our thirties taking a leap of faith (for me) and making a decision to love each other before our friends and our God.

Sometimes I wonder if we should have dated first, but by the time our first anniversary was here, we had said good bye to my mother who was suddenly diagnosed with stage 4 cancer that took her life in a couple of months.  She was so happy at our wedding, so if for nothing else, I’m glad she was around for that.

In two weeks time, we’ll be celebrating our 4th wedding anniversary and now I definitely know that I love him. I wasn’t in love with him on our wedding day, but I hoped that God would help me to grow to love him. What I did know on our wedding day, was that I loved his character.

I loved that he knew that he loved me. I loved that he knew I was the right one for him. I loved that he was always grateful to God for everything, and that he loved Jesus. I loved that he was cheerful and nothing phased him. I loved that he would be loyal to me. I did not doubt any of those things.

Most of our relationship was over Skype with a few in person visits in between. He came to Canada for the wedding, and then came back to the US and applied for me to come here as his spouse. It took 6 months before I got the spouse visa to come and join him.

So perhaps it was a blessing that I wasn’t too ‘in love’ those first 6 months as we were living apart, but I did look forward to his visits and that made my heart grow fonder each time.

In true perfect timing, I arrived in the US on a Saturday and found out the following Thursday that we were pregnant. I am so glad that we could share that experience in person together.

We have two kids, a daughter who will turn three in two more months, and a son that turned one 3 months ago. They are close in age but we are blessed to have one of each as we don’t have room for any more in our little home we were able to buy with God’s help.

I try to speak to the kids in Arabic during the day, but it is difficult as I speak to their dad in English along with all our friends. Still it is even harder for him to speak to them in Amharic. They only get to hear that once in a while. They are still young though, so we will keep trying. It is hard to find friends and resources that share our cultures but a few You Tube songs and kid videos can be found.

I cook Iraqi food at least twice a week so that is something and he cooks Ethiopian on special occasions 🙂

It definitely is a challenge to be a multi-cultural family living in place where most of your friends and work colleagues and TV are not either one of your cultures. You definitely have to make more of an effort. I am so fluent in English, that I myself, have to keep reminding myself to speak in Arabic with my kids, because without thinking about it, I would speak in English.

Our greatest joy as a family that shares multiple cultures is getting to know other families that share multiple cultures. (So we don’t feel alone and it is helpful when my daughter sees a friend speak to their parent in a language other than English). But best of all is knowing that our love for Jesus transcends all cultures.

 

Are you a multicultural mama that would be willing to share your story? Please be sure to contact me!