Happy Asian Pacific American Heritage Month! Join us to celebrate the rich cultures in the Asia Pacific region and support the families that are passing on their heritage culture to their children.
Language is the road map of a culture. It tells you where its people come from and where they are going. – Rita Mae Brown
We were at a playdate at a friend’s house. The two preschoolers were having a good time building a skyscraper with blocks. The two toddlers were playing with a farmhouse. My daughter, who was about 2 years old, walked over by my side and showed me a play horse and a little dog. I asked her if she liked it in Chinese. She nodded and replied back with a couple of words in Chinese. Then she skipped her way back to her friend.
Right then, my friend, Sally, said to me: “You need to keep doing that.” I looked at her and smiled. “You need to keep speaking Chinese to your kids!” she continued. Sally was raising two bilingual children as well. She spoke French to her kids even though she is an English native speaker.
Sally told me that she wished she could still speak Farsi. She said that she lost it even though she spoke it well when she was little. She wished that she could still talk with her grandmother in Farsi but she was no longer able to do that. I felt the emotion in her voice. She continued and said, “I wish my mother had insisted on only speaking Farsi to me when I replied to her in English…”
“You will keep speaking Chinese to your kids. It is going to be hard but you will keep doing it….” she said. I still remember that conversation vividly, and it has helped me over the years.
I still speak Chinese to my kids. They are a tween and a teenager now. We have encountered the tsunami of the community language (English, Spanish, French, or Russian), and we rode on a surfboard of Chinese! Yes, we tumbled from time to time. And, we got up. We tried again. We laugh together and we are fine.
Speaking Your Heritage Language
Be fearless when it comes to speaking your heritage language to your children. It could be Burmese, Cambodian, Cantonese, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Hakka, Tagalog, Malay, Mongolian, Taiwanese, Vietnamese, Thai, etc.
- If you are fluent in your heritage language you can start adding your heritage language to your daily routine. Make it fun for your kids. Use hands-on activities, stories, songs, cartoons, and games to introduce the language to them.
- If you are not fluent in your heritage language you can brush up on it and learn with your children together. Use what you know and speak your heritage language to your children whenever possible, adding a little more every day. The best resources to get it started are online programs and your extended family.
Be Fearless and Let’s Start!
- Smile. A big smile is the first step! It relaxes you and it shows the fun spirit for the kids. Even if you are going to start with a few basic greetings in your heritage language it is a step forward.
- Breathe. There will be bumps in the road when teaching your children your heritage language. Take a deep breath. Smile. Start again.
- Speak. Language is communication. Your kids will need consistent language input before they can speak the language. The more you speak to your kids the more they will be familiar with it. It takes time but it’s worth it. Think about the moment when your child spoke his/her very first word. It is a similar process. It takes time, and it brings joy and excitement.
Heritage Language & Mainstream Culture
“As you begin to realize that every different type of music, everybody’s individual music, has its own rhythm, life, language, and heritage, you realize how life changes, and you learn how to be more open and adaptive to what is around us.” – Yo-Yo Ma
Culture has many different dimensions to it. It encompasses language, food, music, clothing, festivals, values, tradition, gifting, how we greet people, ceremonies, religion and many many more things.
When you introduce your heritage language and culture to kids you are also going to look at the mainstream culture that you are in.
Be a culture detective with your super teammates, your kids. Pick a topic. Ask these 3 questions to start your heritage culture investigation.
- What is the similarity between the culture you are in and the heritage culture?
- Can you find the differences?
- What is your family tradition?
I am an American, steeped in American values. But I know on an emotional level what it means to be of the Chinese culture. -Amy Tam
“I have never denied my background or my culture. I have taught my child to embrace her Mexican heritage, to love my first language, Spanish, to learn about Mexican history, music, folk art, food, and even the Mexican candy I grew up with.” – Salma Hayek
Heritage Culture & Community
Hayek said it so well. It is the little things around us that remind us of our culture and all the heritage cultures we have within us.
In order to have your heritage culture grow in your home, you need to practice and live in it whether it’s a holiday you celebrate, the music you listen to or the food you cook. When you practice it, the spark of your heritage culture is lit up and it shines on you and your family. Introduce your heritage culture to your children with a festival celebration, a cultural craft project, a game, or a culture book.
It is always a good time to have a celebration of Asian Pacific Culture with family and friends. I love to share my favorite Chinese Beef Noodle soup with friends, and my kids enjoy sharing the snacks they have discovered from their trips to Taiwan with friends. With the cultural exchange of food you will be surprised what comes next. For me, after presenting a Chinese Lunar New Year dumpling-making event at my kids’ school, I have learned tips of how to cook sushi rice from Japanese moms. A Korean mother taught me how to grow cabbages and how to make Bibimbap. I was also invited to a Thai Tom Yum Goong cooking presentation from a parent from Thailand.
The beauty of passing on a heritage culture is that you plant the seeds and share with other people. So let’s start at home, and let it grow. Make it a celebration of culture and diversity!