Be Proud to Be an American But Be Proud of Your Heritage, Too

International flagsFor some reason, I attract crazies who feel comfortable coming up to me and offloading their psycho nutty babble. Maybe it’s because I wear big jewelry. Maybe it’s because I’m short and stout like Buddha. Either way, this woman thought it was cool to sidle up at the checkout counter in the market and lean in like she had a big secret to share. “They really should have U.S. flags up instead of those,” she said, nodding toward a cluster of international flags by the register.

Now, you can’t just say anything to people like her because they might be crazy and volatile. I couldn’t help pointing out: “But,” I whispered, “we’re in an international market.” I didn’t get any more convo out of my would-be new friend after that. She’s one of those folks who adamantly believe that living in America means you should disconnect from any kind of allegiance or pride to another country. Like I said, crazy.


No matter that it’s where you were born or where most of your family still lives. Once you plant roots here in the States, I guess she’s suggesting you better wave Old Glory and Old Glory alone. Mmmm. Sounds real clannish — and Klan-ish.

I’m American, born and raised here, and so is my daughter. But before Tween Girl was even old enough to talk, I started introducing her to her African heritage. Even though we’ll probably never be able to trace our blood line back to our original roots — there’s DNA testing for that but good golly it sure is expensive — I taught her to identify with the black folks on that continent as much as she does with the ones over here. There are so many kids walking around who couldn’t tell the difference between Ghana and Guyana. I didn’t want mine to be one of them.

Exposing children to their heritage is a critical part of their personal and emotional development, especially for minority and biracial kids. Helping your kids identify with others who share the same cultural values and experiences can nurture their sense of community and connects them to a legacy that they can be proud of. Even more important in this multi-culti society: instilling an overall appreciation for heritage helps them find value in the special distinctions of other races and cultures so they don’t end up like the ol’ sour lady in the market.

It doesn’t take a concerted trip to the museum to give your kids a dose of their culture and history. After hours of book-and-video education every week in school, they’ll probably shut down if you wield them at home. Instead of forcing them into inevitable boredom, sprinkle your everyday activities with little tidbits of information about your heritage. Cook meals that include traditional foods and recipes. Every culture has delicious dishes passed down through generations. Invite your kids to help prepare the food, and share any special memories that you may have about a dish. The added bonus is you’ll be spending quality time together and having fun, all while creating some (hopefully) delish food.

You’ve got to use age-appropriate activities for the family heritage project. Planning activities that everyone can enjoy together is ideal, but if you’ve got a spirited 7-year-old and a hormonal 15-year-old, you already know that’s not going to happen. Do the best you can. May the force be with you.

Describe the landscape of your family’s native country and let your little ones create a picture based on your descriptions, or draw a map and trace your family’s movement from your homeland to the United States. Indicate the states where family members now live with a symbol or picture that represents them. Older kids are a little harder to satisfy (can I get an amen?), but cultural dance and music performances and art shows have proven to be entertaining for even the most resistant adolescent. Lots of non-profit organizations and community groups sponsor these kind of low-cost activities during the year.

However you plan to celebrate your heritage with your family, whatever steps you take to build a relationship between your children and their culture, just make sure you do it. It doesn’t make you or them any less American. It makes them more confident knowing more about themselves. With the support of a loving family and an active knowledge of their heritage pushing them forward, your children will be equipped to do their legacy proud.

How do you teach your kids about their heritage? What works? What bores them to tears?


Image via sylvar/Flickr

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