Culture Hopping: What All Interracial Families Need to Know
“Pssst! Pssst! Grandpa! Grandpa!” my 3-year-old talks to his Grandfather in a video. Not a video call, but a funny video we recorded of my son and my Dad reading a book together, giggling and laughing after every line read. It pulled my heartstrings to know he wished to experience that closeness with his Grandparents who live very far away.
Our biracial family lives across two countries. My husband, myself and our children live in Guatemala, close to my in-laws while my parents live in the US. We visit each other as often as we can and although I’ve made peace with the arrangement, I think my young son is just starting to understand.
The differences between the two countries are perplexing and difficult for him to understand. I’ve noticed that on this last trip, he even seemed to show signs of culture shock, something I had also experienced in my back and forth between Central America and the US.
Even if your family doesn’t travel between countries, biracial children often have to navigate two very different extended families. And the children also need to learn how they fit in to two different cultures. Here are some things we’re learning in the process of teaching our children to learn to live between two cultures – how they can adeptly hop between them and still feel grounded:
Upon arrival to the US on our last visit, my son made comments at the beginning of the trip saying he wanted to go to “Mama Mila’s” house (his Guatemalan Grandmother’s house). Then of course, as these things go, towards the end of the trip he did NOT want to come back to Guatemala and couldn’t think of any good reasons to come home.
We did our best to keep things upbeat and positive. We said things like, “In Guatemala you can play with your cousins.” And “Here in the US there are lots of parks and you get to play with Grandma and Grandpa.” Or “Isn’t it fun to visit the big library here in the US” and “We can watch the volcano in Guatemala.”
While keeping positive is a great tactic, I also think it’s important to acknowledge that it doesn’t always feel great to hop between two places, navigate two different cultures and not have access to all the people you love all the time. Being a biracial child also comes along with its own complex challenges including how people see them in different contexts. My kids are “canche” or light skinned and light haired in Guatemala and in the US, they are well, often thought to be Guatemalan and people are surprised when they understand English.
So, when my little peanut says he wants to go to Grandma and Grandpa’s house when we’re here in Guatemala, I say “I miss them too. Do you want to see if they’re around to skype?” Or sometimes he misses the nice parks in the US, in which case I say “Yeah, it’s too bad there aren’t as many nice parks around here.”
We address assumptions and questions straight on. People are curious. If people automatically try out their Spanish on my kids, I say “Feel free to speak to them in English, they understand.” In Guatemala, curious strangers touch my kid’s hair and ask about what language they speak. While I know they mean well, I teach my son to stand up for himself and say “I don’t like that,” if he doesn’t feel like having someone touch him. Personally, I don’t really mind the language questions and the ogling. Sure it can be annoying at times, but most people are just curious – after all, we do stand out.
Feelings are feelings and it’s important to validate them and move on. We talk about how we can respond to people and how to express our feelings. I find it’s helpful for the whole family, not just kids!
One of the keys to getting by in culture and country hopping is communication. When we’re in Guatemala, we regularly communicate with family back in the US. When we’re stateside, we make sure to call back to Guatemala to keep up with the family here.
By keeping our ties close, we are setting an example for our children for how to care for our families. And of course, no matter how far away from each other we are, we don’t ever top being family.
Learn About Time
For children, young children in particular, it’s hard to keep track of when we’ll go back to the States again and when we can expect a visit from Grandma and Grandpa. This is true for anyone with relatives far away. We’re working on keeping track of time and understanding when special events like holidays and birthdays will occur. We talk about the order of the holidays and what’s coming up next. Calendars and timelines can help kids understand.
In the realm of keeping positive about both cultures and appreciating what each have to offer, one of my favorite things is to practice and celebrate traditions. We celebrate the US version of things in Guatemala, including Thanksgiving and try to enjoy Guatemalan traditions in the US. It can be as simple as enjoying “cafecito” in the late afternoon when we’re in the US and making Christmas cookies at Christmastime in Guatemala. Appreciating our special family mix of holidays and traditions is what helps keep us grounded in our family and celebrate the richness of culture we get to enjoy.
I expect my children will grow accustomed to moving between cultures, as it’s all they’ve ever known. Yet, I also expect there will be times when they will feel uncomfortable, awkward and strange. It happens to me – I think it’s safe to say that it happens to all of us! Our job as parents is to give our children tools for how to deal with these feelings, how to stand up for themselves and how to feel comfortable in their own skin. That way, no matter where they go and what culture they come into contact with, they will feel grounded in their own identity. ~ Rachel Peachy
Affiliate Disclosure: I am grateful to be of service and bring you content free of charge. In order to do this, please note that when you click links and purchase items, in most (not all) cases I will receive a referral commission. Your support is appreciated. ~Regina Wellman
If you liked this post please take a moment and share your comments below. Sign up for email notifications of new blog posts here. Make sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter! Don’t see the content you’re looking for? Tell us what you want to see. We exist for YOU!