Three Cultures, One Home
The décor of our house speaks loudly about who we are. As you walk through our den you will notice a painting of the Iglesia de San Francisco, the oldest church in Ecuador and a beautiful historical treasure. In our living room, the print of an old African-American piano player that we bought in New Orleans shares wall space with a print of the South Carolina flag. The Caribbean wooden statues that live above the piano face the picture of Charleston's Rainbow Row on the opposite wall. Filling our home with such a diversity of artwork is one of the ways we choose to emphasize the three cultures our family represents. I am Ecuadorian and Spanish is my native language. My husband is Caucasian and from South Carolina. Our two children are African-American, also born in South Carolina. This means that in our family of four we embody three ethnicities, two nations, and two languages.
When Matt and I married, 11 years ago, we began the process of blending our two cultures. We wanted to preserve what we loved most about each of our backgrounds, while trying to navigate the differences we brought to our marriage. Matt was raised with American values concerning family, education, and child-rearing. In addition, he was raised in the South, which further defined his outlook in life. He believes children should say "yes, Ma'am" and "no, Sir" and that biscuits and gravy are a good breakfast any day of the week.
I, on the other hand, was raised in South America, with Ecuadorian values and perspectives. Children don't leave home at 18, close family members feel free to dispense advice and generally meddle in each other's lives, the music is loud and the parties are louder! Marrying meant learning to love not just each other but the cultural aspects that made us the people we are today. We are, after all, a product of our upbringing.
When we adopted Isabel and Noah we added a third culture and race to our family. We decided it was important and respectful to our children that we try as best as we could to understand and embrace their African-American culture in our lives. We felt it would not be fair to them to raise them as if they were Caucasian or Hispanic and, since blending cultures was part of our lifestyle, adding a third one would not be an unfamiliar process.
We started thinking about what that would mean, practically. We talked to our black friends and discussed the question with them. We decided to incorporate African art into our décor so our children would see their faces reflected in pictures, statues, and so on. We also wanted them to experience certain traditions that black families keep, so I learned to do my daughter's hair myself
, and my husband takes our son to an African-American barbershop every three weeks, as most African-American dads do.
There are other practices we have chosen not to keep, such as celebrating Kwanzaa or straightening Isabel's hair chemically. We made some of these choices following the example of our close African-American friends, others because they do not make sense with our family's values. As our children get older we will expose them to and incorporate other aspects of their culture that will be important to them as adults.
Just as we have integrated African-American culture into our lives, we have also expected them to embrace the areas of our cultures that we hold dear. For example, my children speak both English and Spanish
because their mother is Hispanic. They have traveled to Ecuador multiple times to meet their extended family and experience Ecuadorian culture. They attend a mostly white church because their father is the pastor.
Today we love that our house is a mixture of Palmetto flags and Ecuadorian art, of salsa, country music, classical music, and New Orleans-style jazz. We realize our life as a transracial, multicultural family will require us to keep a flexible attitude about discovering new areas of each other's culture and evaluating their importance in our family. We feel grateful to have the opportunity to learn about the three cultures that make our lives richer.
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