The New Latina Guide to a Fabulous 2011 Year! is a collection of insights and tips from a group of talented Latinas (and one Latino) on how to live life to the fullest. Today, we feature Roxana Soto’s piece, on staying in touch with your roots. To download the free New Latina Guide, click here.
When I moved to this country as a teenager many years ago, I was baffled by the terminology many used to describe me. They called me Latina or Hispanic, but I had no idea what they meant because I described myself as peruana. Even though up to that point in my life I had already lived in five countries in three continents — thanks to my father’s corporate transfers — I had always considered myself nothing but peruana, and I longed for the day when we’d go back home to Perú for good. Little did I know that this would never be. That was 24 years ago and while I still consider myself peruana, I’ve fully embraced the word Latina as a better descriptor of who I am.
So, what does it mean to be Latina? Well that’s a pretty tough question to answer. The word evokes so many different attributes the truth is there just cannot be a sole interpretation. Plus, I’ve found that it really depends on whom you ask. Latinos come in different shades and colors. Some of us speak Spanish, some don’t. We are Catholic and Jewish and Muslim. We gave birth to salsa, merengue, tango, bachata, samba and reggeaton. Our food is spicy, eclectic and world-renowned. We are first, second and third-generation Americans. But more than anything, we’re passionate about our culture and proud of our heritage.
Growing up, I was surrounded by my culture, so by the time we moved to the U.S. it was already ingrained in me, which means my parents didn’t really have to struggle to keep it alive. I never imagined I would, but now that I have two children who were born and are being raised in the U.S. and are not surrounded by our Latino culture, it’s up to me. Sadly, the longer our families have been in this country, the easier it is for our raíces to be eroded. Little by little we start forgetting some of our costumbres and traditions and before long they are gone.
If you’ve been looking for ways to keep our Latino heritage alive, here are some suggestions:
Music — If there’s one thing Latinos know how to do is party! And we have all the genres of music to do so. Music has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember, and when I met my Puerto Rican husband, my love for it solidified. He’s taught me a lot not only about classic salsa, but also about bomba and plena, among others. It’s no wonder, then, that as soon as our children hear a Latin beat, they break out in dance.
The most awesome part about music is that you don’t really have to put too much effort into it. You can just turn on the radio, use Pandora, or even YouTube to find a ton of really great music in Spanish. Hit play and let the beats go on endlessly. If you know the words to the songs, go ahead and sing. Dancing is optional, but is always a blast – not to mention a stress reliever.
Another option is to make it a point to try to learn more about a specific musician or genre. This can be especially useful and fun if you have children because not only can both of you learn something new, but it’ll show your kids how much you truly value your Latino culture.
Food — Eating is another thing Latinos know how to do and not just for nourishment. Meals take on an entirely new meaning when it comes to Latinos. For us, it’s all about distinctive flavors, traditions, la receta de la abuela, love, family and how many people go for seconds! Right? For all these reasons, food is an excellent way to keep our heritage alive.
If you’re like me – more the eating type than the cooking type – and have no idea how to get started cooking traditional dishes, there are tons of really well done blogs designed specifically to help you accomplish this. In my house, neither my husband nor I really know how to cook, but for the sake of passing along our culture to our children, we’ve made it a point to try to learn how to make at least one or two dishes from our respective home countries. And so, after a couple of questionable attempts, my husband now makes a mean lechón and arroz con habichuelas which is devoured by all on special occasions.
If your kids are old enough to help you out in the kitchen, make sure to get them involved. I have yet to meet a child who doesn’t like to pretend to be a chef! If your family lives close by or they are planning to visit you, make sure you have at least one cooking session with them so they can teach you and your kids how to cook a Latino family recipe. Look at it this way, this can turn into a history lesson of sorts, especially if they cook a traditional dish passed on from one generation to the next.
Traditions/Cultural Events — Speaking of traditions, there is no better way to hold on to our heritage than to celebrate our cultural costumbres. Depending on where your family hails from, there are sure to be tons of traditions celebrated on any given month. From your country of origin’s independence day to Día de Muertos, take advantage of these celebrations to honor your Latino heritage.
If you’re not too sure about these traditions and you’re lucky to live where there’s a big Latino population, check out what kind of public festivities there are in your area and try to make it to one of them. I promise it’ll be fun. You can either do a search online or check the calendar of events in your local Spanish weekly. Museums and libraries are pretty good about putting together cultural events for the community, including story time, lectures, exhibitions and concerts.
Even if you live far away from anything Latino, you can still celebrate our traditions on your own. Do some research online to find out more about the specific tradition you’d like to celebrate to get ideas on some of the things you could do at home. There are tons of ideas for activities, suggested reading lists, and even recipes online for many of the more popular Latino celebrations, including Día de Muertos, Noche Buena, Día de Reyes, etc.
Language — As co-founder of SpanglishBaby, the online site for parents raising bilingual children, I’m obviously a huge fan and supporter of bilingualism. All the suggestions so far are great ways of exposing our children to Spanish, which is important at many levels, but mostly because it allows the connection between generations to continue. Yet, as I said earlier, not all Latinos are bilingual.
The good thing is that it’s never too late to learn a language, so if you are really interested in reclaiming your family’s native tongue there are a lot of options out there. If you’ve decided you want to raise your own children to be bilingual even if you’re not, you’re not alone! So many of our readers are trying to do just that and, while it’s not easy, it’s not impossible either. The best part is that you get to learn right along with them!
Family — If I were told I could only use one word to define what it means to be Latina, it would have to be familia. Latinos place great importance on tightly knit families, which not only include parents, but grandparents, uncles, aunts, godparents and cousins. If you’re lucky enough to live close to any family at all, make it a point to get together often. Spending time with the family can be an excellent way to keep our raíces alive, especially if there are elders involved. Try to engage them in conversations about how life was back in their country of origin, the music they listened to, their favorite dishes – the possibilities are endless.
If you don’t have any family near you, then try to make a trip back “home” whenever possible to visit them and to get a dose of family time Latino-style. If you have children, this will be a great way to immerse them in our culture, our food and our traditions, while teaching them about the importance of family.
I’m taking my kids back home to Peru this year and I’ve already started talking to them about all the family we’ll be visiting, the typical Peruvian food we’ll be eating, and all the fun stuff we’ll be doing. My daughter is super excited because she’s going to get to play with her cousins, whom she adores, even if she only sees them once a year. She’s also looking forward to exploring the city where her mother was born and which I’ll proudly show her.
If you’ve been looking for ways to keep your love for our culture alive, I hope these simple suggestions get you started. Keep in mind, however, that pride in our heritage is not something that can be forced, you really have to feel it deep down inside, in your heart, and you have to want to pass it on to the next generation. ¡Buena suerte!
Roxana Soto: An Emmy-award winning bilingual and bicultural freelance journalist with experience in print, online, and in television, Roxana A. Soto was born in Lima, Peru and moved to Miami as a teenager. After spending more than 13 years as a newspaper reporter and a television producer, she decided to call it quits, left South Florida for the Rockies, and became a mamá.
A writer at heart, she couldn’t resist when, in 2009, her best friend from college asked her to join her in founding SpanglishBaby which quickly became the go-to site for parents raising bilingual + bicultural kids. Today, she divides her professional time between her blogs — as SpanglishBaby’s editorial director and Bicultural Me, which she recently started — and her freelance writing.
Roxana and her husband are raising their own bilingual and bicultural kids — a little girl and a baby boy — in Colorado.