Raising Latinos

by Melanie Edwards on February 28, 2011 · 20 comments

in guest-posts, Latino Culture

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Young Girl Carrying Mexican Flag

The following is a guest post by Maria Castro.

Lately, I have been reflecting on some of the ways that I could expose my sons more to Latino culture. There are many ways that my husband and I model cultural practices at home such as the kinds of foods we cook and spices we use, the kinds of music we listen to, and the fact that we often speak to them in Spanish. However, I often wonder if all of this is enough. Sure, the boys know that they are Latino and that their parents and family are Latinos, but what exactly does that really mean to them?

My husband and I had totally different experiences than our sons growing up that better equipped us to truly understand and appreciate what being Latino means. I was raised in Spain by my grandparents until the age of 8 and spoke Spanish as my first language. My husband, who is of Puerto Rican and Cuban descent, was raised speaking Spanish at home here in the United States. He also lived and attended school in Puerto Rico for a number of years. There is really nothing that compares to being immersed in Latin culture and language by living in a native Spanish country. We learned exactly what it meant to be a Latino and the pride and culture of our people.

Our children are being raised here in the United States and are really Americanized at this point. They speak English fluently and prefer speaking English to their friends and in school. It seems like anything they value and understand is so removed from my fond memories of my childhood when it was a simpler time and we were bound together by our language and our cultural practices.  These days, young people think that eating rice and beans and listening to Reggaeton makes you a Latino, but there is so much more to us as a people.  It is the fabric of our culture that I am trying to impart to my children.  It is that pride that has propelled us through centuries of obstacles and strife.

I often wonder if I am doing a good job of passing on these cultural lessons and these feelings of pride to my boys.  Although we work very hard at home to instill these values in them, there are many things about our lifestyle that might be contradictory in the eyes of my children.  We live in an affluent neighborhood that is not very culturally diverse in terms of the ratio of Latino and African-American families to the Caucasian families that live here.  Actually, we are one of the few Latino families that live here and own our own home.  My children also attend a Parochial school close by that is not very culturally diverse.  As a matter of fact, there are only a handful of Latino children in both of my sons’ classes.

It’s almost as if the further we move away from our roots, the further we move away from the very things that we hold dear as Latinos, such as community and cultural unity.  As every new generation progresses, here in the United States, we are catapulted from those rich cultural practices of our past into the American way of life.  Most of us came here looking for opportunities and a better way of life and we definitely got those things.  Unfortunately, however, I believe that we somehow lost something along the way and it is this very thing, this essence of being Latin that is lacking in the younger generations.

That is why I am working very hard to raise my sons to be proud of whom they are and to be proud of being Latino.  I believe that you cannot know where you are going if you don’t know where it is that you came from.  It is not enough to remind my boys that they are Latin and to remind them that some of the things that we do are because we are Latin, we have to show them what it means to be a Latino.  Being a Latino includes a rich cultural heritage that is made up of an array of cultural practices that span across a vast network of native Spanish-speaking countries.  Although all Latinos do not originate from the same country, we have an unspoken brotherhood that binds us by way of a common language and a common history.  It is this pride and this brotherhood that I hope to teach my boys.  My hope is that my husband and I will be able to lay a foundation that will be strong enough to influence future generations of our family.  This is one of the legacies that we want to leave our children.

How do you maintain pride for your Latino heritage? If you have children, how do you help them feel proud of their Latino culture?

Maria Castro is a native New Yorker who was raised in Spain until the age of 8. She is the mother of two sons, ages 7 and 4, and has been married for nearly 11 years. Maria is a Middle School English Language Arts teacher for the NYC Department of Education. Read her stories at Tough Cookie Mommy.
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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

Monique C. February 28, 2011 at 7:53 pm

I love this. I often feel the same way. My husband and I, both Puerto Rican, were born and raised in New York City. We had touches of Latin culture here and there, but we lacked a lot. We try harder to raise our children with pride in their Latino heritage, we share music and look at pictures online when they ask about Puerto Rico, we eat traditional dishes and explain how they were created – but it’s very difficult when you don’t really have a foot in the culture and lifestyle, or know someone who does. I want my children to grow up with the pride I didn’t know I should have had. I wish I had better ideas to provide them with it.


Tough Cookie Mommy March 1, 2011 at 12:49 am

Monique, I am so glad that you enjoyed the post. Believe me, you are not alone in feeling that it is difficult to impart to our children our rich cultural heritage. Even those of us who were raised in native Spanish countries find ourselves at a loss here in the United States where our children are moving further and further away from their cultural roots. I think the best way that we can start is by instilling the sense of family and pride that we were raised with by our parents. The fact that you are open to ideas is wonderful and I think we could all learn from each other and share ideas about how we all try to do this in our individual homes.


Monica February 28, 2011 at 7:56 pm

I can totally relate to this post. Thank you so much for sharing it.


Tough Cookie Mommy March 1, 2011 at 12:50 am

Monica, it was my pleasure to share it with you all. Thank you for your positive feedback.


J. Colón Kudyan March 1, 2011 at 3:17 pm

This story hit home with me, Maria. I’m was born in NYC to Puerto Rican parents who came to the mainland when they were young (my mom at 8, my dad at 19). I grew up surrounded by my heritage via music, food, visiting the island and of course the Spanish language. Now, I have children of my own and my challenge is how to instill my Latino pride in a environment that doesn’t really expose them to Latin culture (we live on Long Island) and also acknowledge their father’s heritage ( he’s Armenian-American). Thanks for the great blog piece!


Tough Cookie Mommy March 2, 2011 at 3:47 am

Jennifer, I think that your children will end up having the best of both worlds. You will find a way to impart the the Latin pride and customs that you were raised with and also acknowledge their Armenian-American roots. I personally feel that the more culturally enriched children are, the more successful and fulfilled they will be throughout their lives. Thank you so much for sharing these wonderful insights with us.


Fsclassen March 2, 2011 at 9:00 pm

I enjoyed this. Thank you.

Both of my parents are Puerto Rican and I was raised to be proud of being Puerto Rican. My first language was Spanish but quickly changed once I hit school. I do speak English and Spanish fluently but face difficulties teaching my son the language. He is only 2.5 years old so we do feel with a some time to improve in that area. We typically speak to him in Spanish as often as we could. We’ve also purchased some Spanish DVD’s to help us. He understands the basics but doesn’t speak complete sentences. His teachers are bilingual and it has helped A TON! My husband is from Nicaragua and his primary language was Spanish as well. We try to keep the culture alive by cooking tradtional Puerto Rican meals and visiting Puerto Rico as much as we can.


Tough Cookie Mommy March 3, 2011 at 11:41 pm

I am also having the same problem teaching my boys how to speak Spanish. It is almost like they are resistant and would rather speak English. The funny thing is that they understand everything I tell them in Spanish and will use Spanish words to say certain things. I am so glad that you enjoyed the post!


Adal Gutierrez March 7, 2011 at 11:34 pm

Culture is so important when being raised! I really like this post. Thanks for sharing it. Saludo, Adal


Tough Cookie Mommy March 9, 2011 at 5:03 am

Adal, you are absolutely right! It is so important to have ties to your cultural roots throughout all stages of your life. Un gran saludo de vuelta!


Chantilly Patiño March 12, 2011 at 9:08 pm

I love this post! I’m not Latina, but I want my daughter to understand her roots and feel at home in the Latino community. I struggle with that every day and have so many regrets because neither I or my husband are fluent in Spanish. We stay involved in within the Latino community, but I can’t help but feel somewhat disconnected because of our lack of fluency and I would love to change that. I also envy families who have had the opportunity to live abroad and be immersed in all things Latino…to have the pride and belonging that you speak of in this post. I hope that we will someday have such an opportunity. This is a great post and I really appreciate your points here…they are very important ones. <3


Tough Cookie Mommy March 13, 2011 at 11:09 pm

Hi, Chantilly. It sounds from your comment like you are a lot more connected than you give yourself credit for. I think that having the level of awareness that you possess is the first step in securing these kinds of cultural ties and connections. It is wonderful that you are involved in the Latino community as I am sure that this provides you with many wonderful opportunities to be immersed in Latino culture and cultural practices. Thank you so much for your sincere feedback!


Chantilly Patiño March 14, 2011 at 1:35 am

Maria, sometimes I have felt like my not being Latina could be a crutch to my daughter (more about that in one of my future posts), but I am realizing that the diversity in our family could prepare her in other important ways. I really appreciate being able to connect with other like-minded moms online and furthering the connections to culture and language. 🙂 Thanks so much for the thoughtful response and inclusion.


Coco of VidaCoco.com March 22, 2011 at 10:47 pm

I can relate! My kids are biracial- half Mexican and half Caucasian- so teaching them about both of their ethnic backgrounds and blending the traditions my husband and I grew up with is an ongoing effort. I grew up in a predominately Mexican community on the south side of Chicago and with all of the Mexican traditions. Spanish was my native language and my parents relied on me to translate for them. I have always wanted my kids to be bilingual and while I try to teach them how to speak it, I question how good of a job I am doing at it. Let’s just say, I learned quickly that raising bilingual children is a lot harder than I expected! Other than exposing them to Spanish, I try to teach my kids about their Mexican heritage by having them help me make healthy versions of mi mama’s traditional Mexican recipes, exposing them to cultural traditions and celebrations like Las Posadas and Feliz Dia de Reyes and reading books about Latino culture with them.


Tough Cookie Mommy March 29, 2011 at 9:21 pm

You make a great point! Raising bilingual children is not easy at all when you are not raising them in your native country. As we assimilate and conform to where we live, so do our children. I think as long as we continue exposing to important traditions and instilling a sense of pride in their heritage, they will develop a respect and appreciation for where they came from. You are doing a great job!


Rachel White March 23, 2011 at 9:18 pm

Great post.


Tough Cookie Mommy March 29, 2011 at 9:21 pm

Thank you, Rachel. I am so glad that you enjoyed the post and I appreciate your support.


Flor Olivo May 25, 2011 at 6:18 pm

I struggle with this a lot! I grew up in Houston, Texas my husband East Los Angeles. Our parents are Colombian, Mexican, Salvadorian and Guatemalan. We grew up speaking spanish and visiting our parents countries constantly. I’ve found the way to keep culture strong in the very white community of South Jordan, Utah is to constantly remind them of the beauty of our culture. Having barbecues and inviting family. Speaking spanish and reading spanish books. My mother, their abuela, helps a lot with story telling and etiqueta or manners. Most importantly building their esteem so they can learn to embrace their culture even though embracing their Latino culture is not the norm in our community. 


modernmami May 25, 2011 at 8:43 pm

Sounds like you’ve found some very good ways of making it work for you!
Family and stories are a great way to keep culture alive.


Tough Cookie Mommy June 15, 2011 at 3:04 am

Flor, I commend you for maintaining rich cultural traditions alive for your family.  It doesn’t matter where we live because we take our heritage with us and we make wherever we are “home.”  It is so great to see that many of us struggle with trying to expose our children to customs and traditions that we value and that have been instilled in us since our own childhoods.


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