If you’re raising your kids in L.A. or any major U.S. city, you know that we live in a global world. Being globally intelligent is a key factor for today’s students and tomorrow’s employees. But there is a difference between being aware of and drawing near to other cultures. It’s what you do with those final inches that really matters.
Consider my life in Pasadena: I work in an Armenian neighborhood at Judson International School which represents almost 20 nationalities. I go to an Iranian hairdresser and a Vietnamese nail salon. I live in a neighborhood next to families who represent a wealth of nationalities and cultures: Belize, Egypt, Poland, France, Navajo, Jewish to name a few. My life is rich with possibilities to learn. But how do I take that step between knowing of and really knowing these people who are part of my everyday life? Equally important, how do I teach my children to do the same?
I think a simple yet profound answer to those questions is this: Model for your children how you wish them to act. Be genuinely interested in people. Ask questions. Listen with an intention of learning. I’ve often thought that every life was worthy of a book, if we just would take the time to listen. Consider the answers of some Judson students when asked about their cultural heritage. Some of the students are clearly bi-cultural:
“Having an Ethiopian background, I identify with the Ethiopian culture, but being born and living in the US, I also identify with its culture, as well as having an international view. Living in these countries has given me a certain identity that cannot be placed in one box.”
“Although there are primarily two cultures that I correspond to, I mostly identify with and am proud of my browness. I am Latino. Both my parents and siblings were born in Guatemala, and for the most part lived there before migrating to the United States. I am actually the firstborn American in my family. Culturally, I identify as being bi-cultural…. I love my “browness” and that is something that makes me, me.”
“I identify with two cultures: American and Indonesian. Because I grew up in Indonesia, this country feels like my home, but because I have visited America, I am an American citizen, and my parents are from America, I also identify as American.”
Other students identify with a multitude of cultures:
“My culture … consists of East Asian (due to my family background and love for Asian culture in terms of food, music, drama), American (mainly because I grew up here and studied in English my entire life) and African, because a significant amount of my life was spent studying and serving there. So it really all comes down to this: In Korea, I’m South Asian. In the States, I’m Asian American. In Kenya, I’m Jackie Chan’s sister (Chinese).”
“I identify with the American culture and also with the Dutch culture, because I am Dutch and I’ve grown up with the culture. I grew up in a church that was very male-dominated, which is what Dutch people believe [is right]. I recently joined a church that has many, many cultures. I have an African-American pastor and women are pastors as well, so that makes a difference. I like the way that my church thinks. Every morning they say that they are a “gospel centered, multi- ethnic, intergenerational church that exists to makes disciples.” That’s how it should be. God did not intend for a church to be all white, all black, all Asian, or all Indian. We are all his children.”
“The cultures that I identify most with are American, Japanese, and African American…. I was born in America, and my first language is English. I have also lived here my whole life. I also identify with Japanese culture, because ethnically I am Japanese and all my family members are too. At home, most of the time I eat Japanese food, and I will have some conversations in Japanese. Another culture that I identify with is African American culture. This is because I have always been attending some sort of “black” church…. my mom has a degree in African American studies, and my dad is an ordained minister in a black church.”
The stories these children tell are fascinating. It makes me wonder what other stories are out there to hear. It makes me want my children to hear them too.