Lynn VanderWielen, PhD, MPH
Grounding our Multiracial Kids in their Cultures - Sharing Cultural Practices and Traditions Part 1
Parents of multiracial kids have a variety of approaches to help ground our kids in their cultures. Two specific ways include languages and names.
Many multiracial families are also multilingual or have ancestral languages that have been lost over time. Recent research shows that many parents of multiracial kids who speak multiple languages emphasize speaking their ancestral language in their home. In fact, some parents of multiracial kids insist that their kids only speak their ancestral language with them, even if their partner doesn’t understand.
For many people, this linguistic connection allows a deeper connection with monolingual extended family. For others, language use pushes back on colonization and the process by which lands and communities were taken.
One mom who intentionally only speaks Farsi with her multiracial daughter shared:
“I do think the language is a cultural identity you lose if you lose the language. I mean this is how worlds get conquered, right? You make the country stop using their language. And so I think if she doesn’t have that, there is this loss of identity. And it’s very, very important to me that she has that Iranian identity”
While many people believe that language is a strict criterion for racial and cultural identity, others push back on this. Many of our ancestors from cultures around the globe were either forcefully denied ancestral language use during the global slave trade, or intentionally chose not to pass on the language as they wanted their kids to assimilate. With the advent of technologies for more easily accessible learning, translation, and interpretation, even those of us who have lost our ancestral language can re-learn languages and understand family documents in languages other than English (if you have the great fortune of the existence of such documents).
It is also very common for parents of multiracial kids to deliberately select cultural names. In fact, in our family, our kids have a Dutch first name, a Russian middle name that follows traditional Russian naming structures, and a Nigerian last name. Many parents (like us!) select cultural names to root our kids in their ancestry and to signal to the outside world a bit about who they are. Research also shows that names can signify a cultural membership to the world, especially when a child’s appearance may not be automatically interpreted as membership of that group.
It is important to note that name pronunciation is important - check out this post about the consequences of mispronunciation and how to help others get it right.
These findings are shared in the January 2023 publication by Seider, et al. which is one of the most relevant research publications to date about multiracial families and racial identity development. Come back next week when we share more from this research related to navigating identity development with your partner and finding common ground.
Citation: Seider, Scott, et al. "How Parents in Multiethnic-Racial Families Share Cultural Assets with Their Children." Race and Social Problems (2023): 1-14.
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