Thursday, September 18, 2014

Cultural Identity

What do you consider your cultural or ethnic identity? What traits or practices do you associate with that identity? Are there things you would like to do to enhance that part of who you are?
I chose this blog prompt because it's hard for me. And because it's something I've been thinking about a lot lately. Do all parents begin to feel that their time is so limited with their children and there are still so many things they want their children to know and learn? Mane is in 7th grade. She's 12. And already I am beginning to feel that my time with her is stretching thin. I have only so many years left. There's so much I want to squeeze into our lives, into her learning. I remember that when we got married, Mango's mother warned me that she wasn't finished with him yet. She wasn't prepared for him to marry so young, and she was still parenting.

One of the things I want Mane to have is a sense of cultural identity, as sense of where she comes from and who she is. I think this is an essential human need - to know our place in the world. I find that many families I know struggle with a lack of cultural identity, in particular those families who have no recent immigrants. We look at the more recent immigrants around us and long for what they have - foods, traditions, clothing, holidays that define who they are as a people. Perhaps, though, our ideas of cultural and ethnic identity simply need some expanding.

Ethnically, I am primarily German and Swedish (with a little Irish, Dutch, Swiss, and Prussian for good measure). Very little of those ethnic cultures have come to me through my family, other than a stubborn German/Irish temperament, and, perhaps, a Swedish love of the dark nights of winter, wool sweaters and candles. I love the Swedish Christmas goats and Dala horses, chocolate from Switzerland, and the music of the Irish.

As a cross-cultural family, we're also part Mexican. Ha! And from this adoption of Mexican heritage, we've developed traditions of authentic Mexican food - Tres Leche cakes for birthdays, mole, caldo, enchiladas... Strangely, we've done very little with the holidays...except read about them. Food was such a daily comfort and such a foundational piece a bringing Vespera into our family that we integrated that first and best.

In terms of holiday celebrations, we actually look a whole lot more Jewish than anything else. Or, perhaps, we've adopted church tradition and Jewish tradition as a way to feed the need for cultural identity. Religious practice can be a huge part of cultural identity for people. At our house, Advent has become the anchoring season...because we light candles nearly every night, read stories, and pray. We have a Jesse tree, an Advent wreath, a stack of picture books, and...often...somewhere in the middle of it all...a chanukiah. We trace the seasons of the year from Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot and Chanukah, through Passover/Easter, Shavuot/Pentacost, and, of course, a weekly Shabbat.

On a different level, our "family culture" also includes homeschool, whole and organic foods, and natural living choices. It's not the culture of my childhood, but a culture that has developed over the last 16 years, as Mango and I have developed our own "culture," as our separate cultures have blended into each other.

I would love to nurture more of an ethnic and cultural identity for us, and I think I know how to do it. It's about picking up the little traditions and just doing them. Three Kings Days and Cinco De Mayo...Santa Lucia and Saint Mary's Day. It's about reading the stories and visiting the food markets and cooking the food. I have learned that it isn't really about big things but about simple moments.

I want to visit the Swedish Institute more and Mercado Central. I want to find a Dala Horse that I love for mantle. I want to learn a little German, take Mane to German restaurants, and read about German immigrants. I want to attend the Cinco De Mayo parade and make a Three Kings cake. This is who we are. Our stories shape us, whether we know it or not.


Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Few Things My Mother Taught Me

I've been thinking about this post for a long while. The things my mother taught me are both so simple and so formative. Most important things in life are. It isn't the big, huge once-in-a-lifetime things that make up the stuff of life, but the small every day things.

It's so cliche to say that she taught me to work hard. But she really, really did...from weeding the garden to shoveling snow, my mama did it all. She wasn't afraid to dive into a room that needed to be cleaned at school or a pile of paperwork in the office, either. She taught me to do what needs to be done, no complaining. I'm afraid I've moved away from that lesson as I've gotten older...being now somewhat more inclined to procrastination and whining.

My mother also taught me storage solutions for small houses and how to minimize clutter without throwing all the fun stuff away. She new how to keep games and craft projects and her favorite coffee mug without all the little stuff cluttering up the house. Maybe this is more about knowing what really matters and getting rid of the stuff that doesn't. But, you know, you can keep the favorite mug that you really don't need, if you keep it in the cake pan in the oven (where else would you store your cake pans? and your mugs?). 

My mother taught me to keep my mouth shut when the conflict isn't really going to be beneficial. I don't think this is about avoiding conflict or sweeping things under the rug. She could confront when something needed to be said. But, it was more about extending some grace or having some patience to see how some things might pan out. It was about holding back the biting comment when someone was all sarcastic and crabby...to give them the opportunity to settle down themselves. Because, you know, most of us know when we're acting bad anyway. We seldom need someone to point it out to us.

My mama taught me to hunt for bargains, to substitute ingredients in recipes, to make do with what I have...to turn old things into new solutions. She taught me how to play rummy and make salsa and cook beans from scratch.

Sometimes I'm surprised by all the ways that I am like her because I've often thought myself so different from her in personality. When I surprise myself with a piece of her appearing in my own living, I am so proud.