A few days ago, I took Willy on one of our walks and caught up with the latest episode of the Longest Shortest Time. The episode, titled “Mama Don’t Understand”, is about the beauty and challenge of raising multiracial or “mixed” children. In the episode, one mom was wondering how to address the way in which her young daughter was differentiating that her mother was brown while she was white. It struck a chord as I thought about what lies ahead for my family.
Our son William is the product of a mixed background. I am Latina, of Nicaraguan and Mexican heritage, while my husband John is White/Caucasian (of Irish, German, and English ancestry). When John and I met, I remember asking him more about his background and heritage. I was an anthropology major and am forever fascinated by people’s cultures. Unfortunately, John wasn’t too forthcoming on his background, and while he does have specific traditions he like to uphold on St. Patrick’s Day (and is somewhat offended by the whole “Plastic Paddy” appropriation of the holiday), he’s never had much more to add to the conversation.
On the flip side, I am fluent in Spanish and absolutely love Nicaraguan and Mexican culture, though I am much more familiar with the Nica side of my family (my paternal grandfather was Mexican and died when my father was an infant so dad was raised in Corinto, Nicaragua–the same small, port town my mother grew up in). Through the years, I have shown my husband Nicaraguan slang (“chavalo“, “jodido“), Nicaraguan foods (carne asada is his favorite), Nicaraguan customs (he really wants to see what La Griteria is all about), and told him stories of my trips to Nicaragua.
I didn’t really think much of my heritage growing up. Living in Miami, everyone around me was already Hispanic, so I didn’t exactly feel like an outsider or as thought I were special or different. But the older I get, the more I realize how important it is for me to share my culture in order to preserve it, especially with my family. Not to mention I don’t plan on living in Miami forever, and then I’ll be at a loss when I can’t find good fritanga to eat or someone else who knows about the beaches of San Juan del Sur or what it is I mean when I say, “¡ideay!”
Mostly, though, I want my son to know where his family came from and to speak all the languages his mother knows and then some. I leave it up to my husband to show him about his own heritage, but it’s up to me to show my son (who is incredibly fair-skinned, with brownish blonde hair and eyes that switch from blue to green to gray) that half of his ancestors come from Central America. That his maternal grandparent’s first language is Spanish, and that his bisabuelita, while losing her eyesight, is waiting for him with open arms in her modest home in Corinto. That his mother grew up eating gallo pinto, and that gallo pinto is damn delicious and can keep you going all day long. That his bisabuelo is buried in Mexico City and that someday we will make the journey to visit him. That his mother wishes she knew more about her Mexican heritage other than her unwavering love of Mexican cuisine and her fascination with El Dia de Los Muertos (which is not appropriation because that really would be part of my heritage had I been fortunate enough to know more of my Mexican relatives). That he is eternally lucky to not be one of the children washing windshields on the streets of Managua. That he comes from a land of both political unrest and intense natural beauty unlike anything in the States.
My hope is that in presenting his heritage to him positively, he won’t see me or my side of the family as less than the white side. Because society will at some point teach him the higher value of white skin and a gringo last name. Because society might point out to him that he’s white, but maybe…what’s going on there? Why are your eyes so almond-shaped? Why does your mother look asian? Because society will inevitably show him some narrow minded bastard, like the old racist man at the McDonalds in Fort Pierce who told my husband he should be ashamed of having a child with me.
But hopefully, he’ll teach society about how great it is to come from a multi-ethnic, multi-racial background. He’ll be proud of his heritage on all sides, and speak Spanish better than I do, and pick up on some German, and tell you about Ireland’s history and Mexico’s battles. He’ll take his experiences and build on them and pass them down to his own kids. Isn’t that the point, anyway?