Being Latina, for My Children, For Our Heritage
By Carol Cain of Girl Gone Travel
Granted, I have always loved the food of my abuelita and learned the language fluently when immersed in the culture upon moving to the Dominican Republic at the age of 9. I also made it a point to learn to dance merengue and salsa (because it became a competition over who could and who couldn’t at parties) and bachata (because it was the forbidden dance when I was in high school).
I picked up a few things here and there, slangs and information about things that you would only know when in it. But, I never really considered it all that special.
Until I had kids. Then so many details of my childhood came to surface, details that I loved and formed who I am today.
Things like how it made me feel when my mother would lovingly ask me "¿De quién tu eres?" (Who’s are you?) to which I would respond "De mami" (Yours) to which she would again ask, "¿Todita-todita?" (All of you?) and I would excitedly respond "¡Sí!" (Yes!); or how my abuelita’s house used to smell during the holidays from the days upon days of seasoning and cooking for the feasts; or how us kids would kill each other over her pastelitos; or how the adults would always reprimand us in Spanish to really send the message that things were serious.
So many things I wanted to pass along to my kids that brought out the Latina in me with pride and a stronger sense of awareness than ever before.
I think this tendency to want to be what our cultural heritage represents, for our children especially, is something we American Latinos experience more than any other. If our growing up was heavily influenced by the US, as kids we followed along – some of us even rejecting our ancestors’ customs and culture.
But when we have kids we finally realize how important it is for us to not let those cultural nuances die with the older generations. We want our children to have a taste of what growing up Latino, even as an American-born child, meant to us.
No one else will pass on those details, that history, those recipes, those sayings, that knowledge, those traditions to our children – no one else will be able to in the way that we can. This realization smacks us in the face when we have kids. The sense of urgency suddenly transforming itself into who we are as a parent and as a person.
And so now, as the American holiday of Thanksgiving approaches, my three boys anxiously talk about it because they know it means I will be in the kitchen all day making pernil and arroz con guandules. Like my siblings and cousins before them, they will fight over the pastelitos.
When I ask them "¿De quién tu eres?" they respond right on cue "De mami". When I call them out by their full names (Irish first name, followed by their Spanish middle named, followed by all of their last names – including mine), they know they are in trouble. I am, in many ways, the typical Latina mother…it is what they will grow to know.
They eat rice more times a week than any other kid on the block, and they can dance a mean merengue. They know they are special and do things a little different, maybe even a little louder than other kids in part because they are Latino. And though they are Irish too, and we work on educating them about that heritage too – let’s face it, we have better food, so you know who they are going to want to learn from the most!
Whether it be through my cooking or through our language or through travels where I can expose them further to our culture, I can’t think of a greater gift to pass on to my children than the beautiful heritage of my people. And maybe, one day, when they tuck their own babies to bed they will ask them "¿De quién tu eres?" too and in those words, just as it was for me, the love of all the Latina mothers before them will be passed along to live in their hearts and in who they represent forever.