Happy new year everyone!
I sincerely hope that you all had a wonderful holiday season filled with time with family. I was actually asked more than once recently if my family also celebrates the holiday and it got me thinking that I don’t believe I’ve shared a lot of background on my family in this blog. Well, there’s really no better time to talk family than the holidays.
To first answer the question, yes, we celebrate Thanksgiving (some of the examples from Jeremy’s post were from my family!), Christmas and New Years… but we also celebrate Lunar New Year, Moon Festival and several other Asian holidays. This is because I’m from a small Norwegian town in Wisconsin, and my wife is from Taiwan. I loved growing up in a neighborhood out in the country surrounded by farms, but knew I was destined for other things. I took Chinese in college, lived in Taiwan teaching English for four years (while becoming fluent in Mandarin) and after moving back to the US, met my wife in grad school before getting into multicultural marketing.
We now have two kids who naturally will be exposed to US customs, holidays and traditions by growing up here, but we’ve pledged to do all we can to ensure they are just as close to the Chinese side of their heritage. Thus, our first language in the family is Chinese and we speak it not only in the home, but when we go out as well. If the kids want to ask us a question, it’s in Chinese. If they want to have a conversation in the car, it’s in Chinese. Now, there are times when they’ll come across words they don’t know and we’ll end up with plenty of “Chinglish” sentences (a Dose topic for another time perhaps!), but the intent and comfort with Chinese is there.
Which brings me to the core of my topic for today… there have been many times when others have done a double take at me (a blond hair, blue eyed white guy from Wisconsin) when speaking Chinese to my kids while in a restaurant or at the farmer’s market, and sometimes people will approach me about it with questions and we’ll have a nice conversation. They are generally curious about what we’re speaking or how we learned it. This is especially the case when my wife isn’t with me. I’ve always felt accepted or at least tolerated with a touch of curiosity – but it’s also become quite clear to me that this unfortunately is increasingly not the case for many others.
Over the past year, I’ve heard too many stories of people speaking a foreign language in public areas with their children, but being accosted by others who tell them something like “Speak English, you’re in America.” It could be Spanish, Chinese, Arabic or other languages… generally spoken by those (often American citizens) who are of those ethnicities, looking to ensure that important part of who they are is passed along to their children.
As we enter a new decade, and a year with so much to offer us – a census, two conventions, an olympics, and an election – I would like to encourage everyone to make an even stronger effort to support diversity in this nation of ours. To defend civility and help our neighbors should they be spoken to like that when they’re simply looking to extend a piece of their culture and identity to the next generation.
Let’s embrace our diversity in 2020 and beyond. Those who are speaking a foreign language with their kids are all worth having a conversation with – engage with them and ask what they are speaking in a welcoming way regardless of what they look like. And then encourage them to continue to provide that gift to their children, because that unfortunately may not be the message they hear often enough.