by Jahayra Guess
At one of my daughter’s many well visits, the sweet nurse who showed us to our exam room looked at me and then looked at my adorable caramel skinned baby with a massive curly top of hair and asked if she was “mixed.” I paused for a moment because I really hadn’t considered that before. As an Afro-Latina married to an African American man, I really didn’t see us as a biracial couple. Not knowing how to get into the complexities of why I don’t consider her “mixed” when it comes to race but “mixed” when it comes to culture, I simply replied, “Yes.” I knew that wouldn’t be the last time we would come across the question, and I realized that this made it all the more important to teach my daughter the amazing aspects of both mine and my husband’s cultures. Here are five ways we make it a priority every day:
1. Hablamos Espanol
For me, the most glaring difference in cultures between us is the language we grew up speaking. My mother moved to the United States from the Dominican Republic in her early 20s. Her home base became the rich melting pot of New York City, specifically Queens. She was able to get by without English for most of her life since she worked and lived around people who spoke Spanish. She learned enough to order food or ask for directions with broken English, hand signals, and a kind smile. This meant that I first learned English from watching cartoons at home and later, in school. This shaped who I am and the love of my rich culture. When my husband and I were engaged I made it clear that I wanted our future children to grow up speaking Spanish like I did. He was fully on board with raising bilingual children. Now, a couple of years later, we speak mostly Spanish to our daughter at home. Even though my husband doesn’t speak Spanish fluently, he encourages my daughter’s learning by using Spanish words. He calls milk “leche,” nose “naris,” water “agua,” and himself “Papi.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not easy to do this when my husband and I primarily communicate in English, but when speaking to my daughter, I am 100% Spanish and even translate things Papi says to her. They are both learning.
2. Bilingual Books with Characters That Look Like Us
One of the first gifts I bought my daughter when she was still growing inside me was a set of books to start off her library. I made sure to find the classics in Spanish: La Oruga hambrienta (The Very Hungry Caterpillar), Buenas Noches A Todos (The Going To Bed Book), Clifford el Gran Perro Colorado (Clifford, The Big Red Dog), Jorge El Curioso (Curious George). As she gets older we are also making sure to find books illustrating beautiful ninos y ninas that look like her: What Can You Do With A Paleta?, Please, Baby, Please, I Love Saturdays y Domingos, and many more.
3. Doc McStuffins and Our Generation Dolls
This goes right along with number 5. We buy toys and dolls that reflect the beauty and magnificence of our cultures. I am personally a huge fan of Our Generation dolls that come in a multitude of shades and background stories. Growing up I LOVED dolls, so much so, that my doll collection still lives with my mom. When I was looking through my well-preserved dolls for a few I could pass on to my daughter, I felt a little sad for young me. Out of close to 100 dolls, I only had about two that I could say looked like me. I know that contributed to the insecurities I sometimes felt growing up “different.” I did not see myself represented. Losing myself in a pretend world meant being a different race and culture. This was something I could definitely change for my children by being more conscience of what I buy her.
4. Cheesy Grits and Mangu
Food has always been a huge part of who I am. Family gatherings or even quick visits always ended in us gathered around a big meal. I want to make this a tradition in my home too but this, I have to say, was a hard one since I didn’t grow up cooking much in my house. I am loving experimenting with old school recipes so my husband, daughter, and I can come together at the end of each day at our dinner table. This has also brought me, my mom, and mother-in-law much closer together as it involves many phone calls, emails and texts asking for their secret recipes. Nothing like learning to make moro (Dominican rice and beans), collard greens, and giblet gravy with the moms walking me through it step by step.
5. Abuela/Abuelo and Grandma/Grandpa
Who is more qualified to teach the younger generation about where they come from than the grandparents who helped shape their parents? We don’t live close to either sets of parents but thankfully, in this age of technology that doesn’t matter much. Our daughter video chats with Abuela, Abuelo, Grandma and Grandpa a few times a week. They read stories, sing songs and play games. Visits are even more special of course. Seeing the excitement on my daughter’s face when she spends time with her grandparents is truly priceless.
About The Author
Jahayra Guess is an Emmy®-award winning Director of Marketing and Social Media. Her most recent position was held at Harpo Studios, a multimedia production company founded by media mogul Oprah Winfrey. Jahayra is also a married mom of one and passionate about life hacks and unique ways to find a bargain. Follow Jahayra on Twitter @Jai7575!