Saturday, November 8, 2014

Finding our Chinese Heritage in an American Home.

My kids really don't look Asian (e.g. Monkey has hazel eyes, and Bunny was born with almost blond hair, which has now darkened to brown, but still gets blond streaks sometimes). We speak English at home.  I only cook Chinese food maybe once every 1-2 weeks. We rarely eat with chopsticks (unless it's just 'for fun'). We don't go to Chinese school. The only Chinese holiday we celebrate is Chinese New Year.

How are my kids going to connect with their Chinese heritage? 

I started out speaking Chinese to Monkey for his first 1-2 years of life, until he started speaking, and then the 'Why?' questions started, and my limited Chinese vocabulary could no longer keep up.  He could actually understand it during those years, but has since lost that ability.  It's definitely harder to keep up when one parent doesn't speak the language.  I'm not a frequent speaker of Chinese myself, as I don't have anyone else in the household to speak with. When we started homeschooling though, we made an active choice to teach him Mandarin as his foreign language.

The kids have had a on-again-off-again interest in Chinese culture. Over the years, they've asked to learn Chinese or learn how to use chopsticks. Unfortunately, the interest usually subsides soon after. Sometimes I wonder if they even think of themselves as Chinese. At one point, I tried to read a book to Bunny with a main character who was Chinese, hoping she would get a glimpse of someone else who is Asian, growing up in America, but she made a comment about how she couldn't relate, because she 'doesn't feel Chinese'.

That was a wake up call. 

Now, given, she is only half-Chinese, so the stories about growing up looking different, or having parents who don't speak English, are not going to resonate with her, but I would've hoped she felt a *little* Chinese at least.  Even if she didn't experience the same emotions, to be able to connect with experiences that her mom or grandparents went through, would have been nice.  So. I've decided to actively incorporate more of Chinese culture in our lives.  I'm trying to speak to them in Chinese more often.  I'm trying to cook more Chinese food and introduce more Chinese vegetables and foods to them.  I'm going to persevere in teaching them to use chopsticks, no matter how much food is dropped.

I realized that some of our lack of Chinese culture in our home stems from my own lack of interest in Chinese culture growing up. I was too busy trying to fit in and be as 'American' as possible. Unfortunately, that means I don't know much about Chinese holidays or traditions.  So this is a wake up call for me too. I'm going to start learning about holidays, traditions, history, and people, so I can teach my kids, in hopes they will appreciate and embrace this heritage from which they come. As a start, we did a unit on China and expanded it alot more in depth than what was in our My Father's World Curriculum.


  1. I worry about the same with my daughter. I hope she will embrace her Chinese side.

  2. My daughter definitely went through a phase when she said stuff like, "I'm not Chinese! I speak ENGLISH!" And it was very disheartening.

    We do go to Chinese School, and I think that does help. Not just in the actual learning Chinese part, but in the "fitting in" part, too. There's a decent number of students who are half-Chinese / half-Caucasian, though they are certainly still in the minority in this school. Anyway, it's a place they go where the whole community is Chinese-oriented, and I am hoping that fosters a feeling of belonging, or at least an understanding that they are Chinese, too.

    It's hard to incorporate Chinese culture and language at home when both parents aren't Chinese AND the one parent who is was raised in America! I agree, it's really something I need to work at, and consciously do.

    Don't give up on the chopsticks! Your kids might be too old for these, but I started both my kids out on this:

    My 3rd grader's hands are too big for it now, so we've moved on to a new level of chopstick straining. :P One time at a restaurant, she got this plastic clip you can put on the end of regular chopsticks! We saved it and re-use it. You can buy them on Amazon too.