Multicultural families are on the rise in the United States creating what the Pew Research Center calls the ‘Modern American Family’. However, if you think about multicultural Latino families, our collective experiences as a community and the fact that we are the most diverse and multicultural group in the United States, you will understand that we face particular challenges in raising our families. We all know that race is a social construct as scientists agree that there is only one human race. Nevertheless we live in a society in which racial labels exist. Those labels heavily impact our social interactions because of the ideas that are attached to them.
I’m from the Dominican Republic, and if you ask me, I’m as Caribbean and Dominican as they come; which means I’m the product of different mixes. That being said, the way I’m viewed and socialized in America tends to vary depending on whether I’m with my children or not, if I wear my hair a certain way, or if the person hears me speak and notices my Spanish accent.
My husband, who is also Dominican from the north side of the island, is often assumed to be Muslim. He has fair skin, dark black hair and eyes and likes to wear a goatee. Personally, I’m often mistaken as Indian or Muslim if I wear my hair straight, but when I wear my hair curly, people lean toward me being African American. Needless to say, there is always a reaction of disappointment once I speak Spanish or they catch my accent when I speak English, at which point many conclude that I am Mexican.
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Of my three children, only my oldest, my daughter, is viewed as Latina. My middle son is always viewed as African American and my youngest has been assumed to be Ethiopian. As a Dominican used to having a family with all shades and colors, and knowing our history, I’m really amused by all of these. However, I am aware that I need to raise my children with a strong sense of who they are, as Americans and as Latinos, because the behavior that comes out of those assumptions quite often is negative.
The challenge for multicultural Latino families is to instill in children a sense of pride of their roots while embracing American culture, in a time in which there is a lot of negativity surrounding being Latino. That is why I’ve made it my mission to help parents on this journey by writing children literature, with my first bilingual book, La Familia Cool: The Most Valuable Treasure/El Tesoro Más Valioso. It is our duty as parents to teach them respect, acceptance and appreciation when they are often the subject of the opposite and can’t understand the reasons; more books with diverse characters that kids can relate to are a great tool to help us in our journey.
Three Things You Must Do Raising Multicultural Latino Families
Expand On Multicultural Living. American Latinos lead multicultural lives everyday without any conscious effort, it is present in everything they do since they experience their Latino and American sides indistinctly. However, if we are to create multicultural Latino families that can change the face of this country in the future, we must learn and teach our children about all the other rich cultures that live here in the United States; we ought to go beyond the multicultural layers of being Latino and experience the whole world that surrounds us.
Embrace The Whole Latino Experience. This might sound strange to you, when we already established that Latinos live in a multicultural world of their own. However, it is important to go beyond teaching the pride of their own ancestry – like teaching my kids about being Dominican -, to teach them about the achievements, contributions, and rich culture of all Latinos. That way, the next time they are asked if they are Mexican or Puerto Rican, they can respond from a position of empowerment. They can safely correct the inquirer about their own heritage, while feeling good about belonging to a bigger community that has given so much to this country.
Teach Them How To Deal With Prejudice. Whether we like it or not, our children are going to encounter prejudice at certain times and places without us being present. One of my goals in raising multicultural Latino children is to make sure that they don’t grow bitter or react in a negative way to less-than-fortunate encounters. While children are little they are fortunate enough not to understand fully when something like that happens; however, as they grow and become increasingly aware, they will start to put the pieces together and start to ask questions.
We need to be prepared for when that moment comes, because children understand simple concepts, like good and bad, and they will struggle to understand why these things happen to them. Our job is to help them understand while not developing a prejudice of their own about people who are culturally or ethnically similar to people who make those types of comments.
We live in a multicultural melting pot that hasn’t embraced multiculturalism as a way of life and has long resisted changing unilateral views of this society. Now, with the rapid growth of minorities and intermarriages, we have to start educating our children to live in the new society that is being created. My hope is that all Americans understand how important this is for all children, especially those who are not multicultural or multi-ethnic. This is the natural evolution of the United States, redefining what it means to be American to a more diverse, multi-layered society.
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