Am I Doing Enough to Pass Down My Heritage?


Photo Credit: Jessica Lin Photography 

In bicultural families, one of the biggest challenges can be passing down your heritage to children. It can prove challenging if one culture dominates or if the child is not receptive.

I grew up as a first generation Chinese-American to parents deeply rooted in the culture of their homeland. My mother cooked (fabulous) Chinese food every day, we celebrated the traditional holidays, our family friends were Chinese and we attended language school on Saturdays.

All of these things served to provide a cultural foundation. However, to the surprise of many, I am not fluent in Chinese. In an effort to teach us America’s language, my parents spoke to us in English. To each other, my parents conversed in Cantonese. When I went to Chinese School, the teachers taught the national dialect of Mandarin which sounded nothing like Cantonese. I struggled and ended up hating Chinese School.

My parents must have worried that my siblings and I would lose our Chinese heritage. Growing up in the Midwest, I didn’t see many Asians so it took awhile for me to fully embrace my culture. Things changed in college where I took two years of Mandarin voluntarily. I later traveled to China with my parents and then started the blog Bicultural Mama once I had my own child.

Just like my parents, I now worry if I’m doing enough to pass down my heritage. Though biologically my daughter is 50% Chinese and 50% Caucasian, the split between her exposure to each side is more like 10% / 90%, respectively. She watches and listens to kid’s Chinese language DVDs and CDs, celebrates Chinese New Year and occasionally wears traditional outfits bought by her aunt in Shanghai, but I know it’s not enough. The reality is that we live in an area with few Asians, I’m not fluent enough to consistently speak to her, and she only sees her Chinese grandparents a couple times a year due to distance.

I ask myself, “What if our family’s Chinese heritage ends with me because I’m unable to pass it down to the next generation?” It’s something that weighs more heavily on my mind as my daughter grows older.

In an effort to keep our heritage alive, I recently enrolled my daughter in a Chinese “Mommy and Me” class. Here, she is exposed to dozens of Chinese children and is learning basic words through music, storytelling and dance. Though her toddler whims make her more interested in eating the snacks handed out versus actually learning, I’m hoping she will pick up some words. My husband has also been attending with us, so who knows — maybe between the two of us learning along side with her, my daughter may one day speak Chinese.

 Photo Credit: Jessica Lin Photography 

Maria Wen Adcock (Bicultural Mama) is a first generation Chinese-American married to an All-American man from Long Island. Prior to her writing career, Maria acquired her MBA and worked in marketing for over 15 years for top consumer products and magazine publishing companies in the Midwest and New York. Maria launched Bicultural Mama to provide a bicultural perspective on all things related to parenting, culture, and society. She is also Editor of the parenting resource site Long Island Mamas Network and is a freelance writer for several regional and national online and print publications.

Follow Maria on Bicultural MamaTwitterFacebook, or Pinterest.

7 Responses to “Am I Doing Enough to Pass Down My Heritage?”

  1. I can totally relate to where you’re coming from! It’s not easy to pass on your heritage to your kids when you are one generation removed, and also when your spouse is not from the same culture. But you do your best, as you are doing!

  2. It’s a struggle to teach my kids about Chinese culture & language when I don’t have a good grasp of it myself. My family is from Taiwan, so we recently brought the kids there this past summer to experience it for themselves. It was a great trip, and I think the kids learned a lot from it. It has motivated them to try to learn more Chinese, and with the help of our Chinese tutor, it’s been improving bit by bit.

  3. Similar to your situation, my parents also spoke to me in English as a child in order to expose me to the language. We lived in areas where there weren’t many Vietnamese people so I didn’t have any Vietnamese friends. Now that I have a child, who is 50% Vietnamese and 50% Thai both my husband and I are determined to expose him to both languages so that he might be lucky enough to speak both fluently (hopefully, a lot better than both his parents!). We encouraged both grandparents to speak to our child in their native languages. I think learning both languages and understanding his heritage will make him more well-rounded person. It would also be in integral part of his career.

    Petite Brooklyn Mom

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