CULTURE : noun
the customs, arts, social institutions, and achievements of a particular nation, people, or other social group.
Many of us identify with the specifics of culture in different ways. There is no right or wrong way, and there is no hard and fast definition as to what, who, and why you identify with a specific culture in your life. I would bet, though, that most likely you were influenced by a group of people, faith system, specific social institution, or way of living that has remained a part of your life to this day. One that perhaps you are choosing to raise your children in and around. For myself and my family, when I think of culture, I immediately think of my Italian American roots, and the influence they have had on my entire family.
We are what I like to refer to as ‘mutts,’ in other words, families with multiple cultural backgrounds that have joined as one. We are German, Dutch, French, and Italian. We have been in the USA for decades, and we have been in the USA for hundreds of years. We still have relatives in the ‘old country,’ and we have relatives down in Tennessee. Combining two families is really combining generations of familes and stories that we have never come face to face with. What a vivid reminder of how small we are in this extravagantly large spiderweb of life.
Everyone attends to their cultural heritage differently. Some do not carry over traditions, some do. Some don’t look into genealogy, some do. Neither view is superior over the other, it is simply what you hold near and dear. In our family, specifically my father’s side, we have chosen to keep culture close.
My girls are 2 and 4. They know their Nonno (Sicilian for ‘grandfather’) is usually at ‘the club’ or football. Retired as he is, he runs the kitchen at the local Italian lodge (‘the club’) and coaches football for a high school powerhouse. We have been incorporating Italian phrases and 1-word commands into their brains since they were little peeps. We enjoy attending activities at the Italian lodge, and we are active at the fall food festa every year. We talk about relatives they haven’t met (all of them, Italian-side or not) and we talk about how we are not ‘from Ohio,’ but rather from different countries. We want them to know that this world is bigger, and that we came from somewhere else. That we are in fact a combination of multiple nationalities, that now make us who we are today. We cook pizelles at Christmas, and eat the cuisine of our ancestors throughout the year. We hope we have built a cultural pride in their little souls. They may only be 1/4 Italian, but the culture we have exposed them to will continue for as long as they allow. I want them to feel like they know the relatives they have never met, and guarantee that they remember the relatives they have.
Are you searching for ways to hold on to an aspect of your family culture, while passing it down to your kiddos? Just keep it simple, mamas. Talk to them, tell them stories of your grandparents and parents. Do you realize that our generation is one of the last ones with a direct link to the Ellis Island generation? My grandfather sailed through that port in 1923, where his name was changed, and pronunciations were altered. He did not speak English, but years later became an extraordinary Podiatrist in Northern Ohio. He had very little, but he achieved much. This is the time to share stories of achievements, struggles, and truths. If your family has been in American for hundreds of years, share what you know. Where did they begin their journey? As farmers, sailors, Native Americans? Simply share. If this kind of cultural identification is not your thing, just share with your kids an aspect of your upbringing that you hope they continue throughout their lives. A special food you prepare certain time of the year. A specific tradition you hold close to your heart that your parents introduced you to. There are no rules here, friends, it is entirely in your court.
How do you keep culture close, mamas? Please share.