Fear of a Borg Life Part II: Disappearing heritage

July 25, 2007

“Culture is the bridge that links the present with the past, and the past with the future,” according to the Washington, D.C., group’s policy statement on biracial adoption. “It is a person’s values, beliefs, learnings, practices and understandings.”–The National Association of Black Social workers

One cold winter day I stood around chatting with the other parents as we waited for our children to get out of class.  As it was a cultural enrichment class, the topic turned to cultural inheritance.  One of the dads, himself a product of an intercultural marriage, said “culture is passed on through the mother.”  Wow.  I had never thought of that before.  I found myself pondering his assertion for the next week or so, examining my own beliefs on the matter.  I realized that I had held the view that, much like children take on their father’s name, they take on his culture.  I had heard this sentiment expressed all my life and had never thought to challenge it. But is it automatically true?  Wouldn’t that only happen if the mother made a conscious effort to (abandon her own culture and) adopt her husband’s culture and teach it to their children?  I suppose that this is often what happens. But does it have to?

Who generally sings the children to sleep at night?  Who usually prepares the food the children eat? Whose tone, inflection, and colloquialisms do the children hear all day every day?  Who chooses their clothing?  Styles their hair?  Mommy does.  Who is their first and primary teacher of habits, views and tastes?  Mommy.  And so unless she makes a conscious effort not to do so, the children will have a lot of their mother’s cultural heritage.  The lullabies from mommy’s culture will live in their hearts.  Their tastebuds will be used to the food from mommy’s culture.  They will speak like their mother.  They will wear, at least some of the time, hairstyles common to mommy’s people.  And on and on.

I live this everyday.  When my husband raises an eyebrow at something our children have done, they will say “What?” in the same tone and with the exact same feigned innocence as their mother.  My daughter will occasionally wear her hair braided, and once sported a full head of beaded braids for 3 weeks.  I read them many of the same stories that I read as a child.  When we have a turkey dinner it is always served with cornbread dressing, just as it has been in my family for generations.

This is not to say that my husband’s heritage has disappeared, because it hasn’t.  I make sure that my children also learn about and love the art, music, and food of Ireland.  I take them to the festivals and events.  They are learning about that history just as they are learning about African and african-american history.  Again, as the mother, I have that power.  And I have every intention of using my powers for good (LOL), and teaching them to appreciate their Irish heritage.  I know this has been of some comfort to my mother-in-law, who has already had to adjust to our children not carrying on her cultural traditions surrounding Christmas.  I imagine she doesn’t want to disappear.

An “interracial” or intercultural marriage with its resulting children involves the blending of cultures just as it does the blending of physical characteristics.  And unlike your children’s phenotype, you have alot more control over what they inherit from you culturally.  You’re afraid your children won’t have your cultural heritage?  Don’t be. 

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