Every Halloween my mother put out an altar for our dead relatives. Every year at the beginning of January I put out one shoe, so that the three kings would leave me a chocolate bar. My after school snack was usually a corn tortilla rolled up with a little bit of butter. My mother’s rice was cooked with mint, and her black beans simmered on the stove all day long and were flavored with special avocado leaves sent by Jefa, my grandmother.
It wasn’t until I had my own child that I understood the significance of the way she had raised me. I always knew that I was an American, but I also knew my mother was Mexican and she had taught me a lot about her rich culture.
Nothing she did was particularly special, even thought it really was. She gave me broader experiences and a deeper sense of who I was by exposing me to the unique aspects of her heritage.
Everyone can do the same by following a few steps:
- Share folklore and historical stories with your children.
- Teach your children about the indigenous people of your home.
- Prepare traditional dishes, or include cultural ingredients in family meals.
- Practice cultural rituals, and celebrate traditional holidays.
As my daughter got older I began looking for more and more ways to introduce her to the same experiences I had as a child. The first year we celebrated El Día de los Muertos, I bought plastic molds and we made sugar skulls. I started putting mint in my rice. A couple weeks after Christmas my daughter would wake up to find a chocolate bar in her shoe.
At first my boyfriend didn’t quite get it, even though he said he did. He was a non-practicing Jew, and didn’t see any reason to start so close to turning 40. Well, until our son was born. That was the year we celebrated our first Hanukkah as a family.