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Asian Culture

How do you decide how to balance Asian and American culture when raising a family?

Dear Anonymous,

This depends on your personal and your kid’s preferences and values. Honestly speaking, there’s no right or wrong answer. On top of personal and family preferences, every culture has its good values and not-so-good values. I will take the best essence from each culture and raise my family/kids.

First, let’s talk about personal and family preference. My husband and I were born and raised in China for our first 26 years and came to US as the first-generation immigrant. We were deeply rooted by the Chinese culture. So when we raise our kids, our expectation is that they need to speak Chinese, learn some of the cultures/values and know their roots. Therefore, we only speak Chinese at home, use chopsticks and have Chinese dishes for dinner. We also share the Chinese value of respecting grandparents/elderly and love/care younger children etc.  My husband and I agreed on these routines and values before our kids were born and we stick to the routines pretty well and so far it turned out to be positive.

From my kid’s perspective, they love Chinese food, prefer speaking Chinese at home and want to use chopstick and they view those skills as an advantage over other kids at school. We also encourage them to share and spread the Chinese culture during the Chinese spring festival and share Chinese sweets and food with their classmates and teachers. The school seems like our approach to bring diversity to the other students.

But I do see other Chinese families experience the opposite behaviors – their kids don’t want to speak Chinese or learn Chinese; prefer American food over Chinese food; etc. if you don’t have a strong influence when they are very young, it’s hard to change the behavior and shape their preferences when they grow up.

To summarize, each family has its own dynamics, between parents, grandparents and kids. Both parents need to be aligned before implementing any routines on balancing and reshaping the Asian and American culture. Be open to share your value and opinion with your kids regarding different cultures and how diversity can help them in the long term. Sometimes, the kids ask tough questions; or they sense their differences and want to blend into the American culture. As parents, our responsibilities are to help them build confidence, self-awareness and good values from both Asian and American cultures. 

Some questions I got from my kids are:

1. Why is my hair color black and my classmates are yellow or blonde? I wish I have blonde color. Why am I different?

My answer is: because your daddy and mommy have black hair, so you have black hair. Why do you want a blonde color? Is that because other kids have? Your black hair is unique and beautiful. You like snow white, right? what is snow white’s hair color? It’s black. You see not all the princesses have blonde hair. Snow white is black, Princess Anna is brown, etc. you are different because everyone is unique, maybe your best friend Natalie wished to have a black hair too. In general, people always wish to have what they don’t have, but when you have it, it’s not always a good thing. you don’t have it, it’s not always a bad thing. Let’s enjoy and cherish what we have. 

2. Why do I need to speak Chinese at home and other kids don’t?

My answer is: because if you don’t speak Chinese, your grandparents and other relatives won’t understand what you say. And you won’t understand them when you travel back to China. We are families, and they don’t know English, and they are too old to learn English from the beginning. Can you please speak Chinese to them and help them understand English? You can be their translator when they go shopping or to the restaurant. Then every time we go out, my 4 years old becomes the translator for my parents and parents in law.

3. Your English pronunciation is not good.

My answer is: yes, you are right. my English pronunciation is not good because English is not my first language. I learnt English at 13 years old and back in China. You definitely have an advantage because you learn both Chinese and English when you are very young and both languages are your first languages. You also start to learn Spanish as your second language. You will be able to talk to 80% of the population in the world. What a great achievement! You can be my teacher on some of the English pronunciation and Spanish. Are you willing to help?

I think with our encouragement and honest sharing, our kids will find the best way to navigate through different cultures.