Back in December, I wrote a post about my wonderfully diverse neighborhood and the interesting people of all different heritages who live around me. One of those families is from India, and they have a young son that my children enjoy playing with. As we ride scooters and play soccer in the yard, it’s been interesting for me to get to know this six-year-old first-generation American student.
Becoming More American
This year, I’ve seen the little boy at elementary school when I volunteer, since he and my kindergartner go to the same school now. Without a doubt, he is becoming more and more American as time goes on. His English has improved drastically from a year ago. He’s into Power Rangers. He told me recently that his favorite sports team is the New England Patriots. Yet when I see him at home running around in our backyard—and because I know his home situation—I understand the quandary facing his parents. How can they best assimilate for their child’s benefit, without losing their cultural identity?
Tied to Cultural Identity
I have a close friend who, much like this boy, was born in India but raised in the Denver area from age two. She has told me interesting stories about growing up with traditional Indian parents who came to America to give their daughters a better life, but were still so tied to their Indian culture, even hoping that their daughter—my friend—might be amenable to an arranged marriage as they had had.
Embracing the Best of Both Worlds
My neighbors seem to be striving for the best of both worlds for their son. Whenever anyone in the neighborhood has a barbeque or happy hour, they come, bringing something deliciously homemade (the wife is an amazing cook) and mingling, even though I know it’s not always comfortable for them. Whenever we ring the doorbell to see if their boy can play with my two kids, they say yes, sending him out to make friends.
What I admire most about this family is that they are doing their best to embrace their new home while still celebrating their culture. At least once a week I see a pile of shoes outside their front door and a dozen Indian children running around outside. Their regular parties with their Indian friends seem to be their attempt to stay connected to their culture—and give their child that same opportunity.
Multicultural Friendships and Experiences
Melting pot and salad bowl theories aside, I feel grateful to have my children grow up next door to someone who comes from a totally different part of the world than they do. My daughter asked me not long ago to point out India on a map because she wanted to know where her playmate was born. The benefit for our children, I believe, is that their childhood will be marked by multicultural friendships and experiences. They will learn, as we all should, that America is made up of people who come from all over. Those students enrich our children’s educations—and their lives.
If you’re a first-generation American student, what was your experience growing up here? If you’re raising first-generation American children, how do you manage to simultaneously retain your home culture and embrace your new one?