How to Reinforce a Positive Identity with Dual Heritage Kids
This week my daughter’s teacher announced the children would be talking about identity, where they and their families are from and about culture. She encouraged parents to talk to their children beforehand so the children could positively contribute.
As the parent of a mixed heritage child, I was excited that my daughter would be having this conversation in school. Her background is, at best, interesting and layered but at worst, it’s complicated and confusing.
So, as a person of mixed parentage myself, I have to admit my heart did skip a beat. I wondered: does identity have to be a struggle for our dual heritage kids?
I remember being a teenager and cringing from those conversations about where I was from. Do you mean where do I live now? Where are my parents from? What culture do I identify with most? What languages do I speak (or in my case, not speak well enough).
As dual heritage kids, when it came to my Iranian side, I often felt confronted about laying claim to a culture I knew so little about. And coming to England as a young adult, I couldn’t have felt more like an outsider if I tried. What basis did I have for identifying with any of these cultures?
Do Kids Even Understand Identity at Such a Young Age?
When it comes to my daughter, I wonder what she might say in such a conversation. First of all, would she remember all the places/races and cultures that make up who she is? As a mixed heritage kid, does she identify with all of her cultures?
Of course, these questions of a 5 year old were bound to fail. But I couldn’t help feeling conscious that I may not be doing enough to educate her. Or worse, that she may end up as confused or as pressured as I felt during these conversations.
When hubby originates from Nigeria, and I hail from Canada/ England and Iran, the story can be complicated. Particularly for a 5 year old who now lives in the UK but spent a good part of her short 5 years in Nigeria and Canada.
Our stay in Nigeria was a fantastic one for my daughters to feel connection to Nigeria. With bounds of family, grandparents and extended family surrounding us, we were never searching for connection. And yet, even with these important connections, not speaking the language and having a mother that will always be treated as a foreigner, our children may not always have ‘felt’ fully Nigerian.
And though this treatment as a foreigner was always tinged with white privilege, it was still uncomfortable at times when our family was trying desperately to blend in.
We moved onto Canada where multiculturalism is supposedly in the DNA of Canadian politics. Settling back into my childhood hometown, just outside of Edmonton didn’t always sit well however. We struggled to find families that looked like ours and my struggle to see my childhood home as the home I could call my family home didn’t seem destined to end there.
So here we are. In London, England, arguably one of the most culturally diverse cities in the world. Where the question, ‘where are you from?’ can still carry with it multiple nuances but ultimately, seems to be asked with less bias and more about curiosity.
But even within the diversity of the black community, my daughters’ looks, race and accent will further put pressure on them to identify as either Black, Black British, African- British or just Naija.
If their skin is darker, they may be questioned if they trie to identify as hyphenated or mixed race as people will argue their intentions. “Why don’t you just admit you’re black”, I can see their mates saying. And yet, if they identify as black, darker skinned folk will quite rightly point out their light-skinned privilege.
By now, my eldest daughter can reel off the list of countries, and can even tell people a few words from Yoruba and Farsi. But whether she truly identifies with any of these (or all), I guess only time will tell.
It’s Not Really About Geography… it’s about Relationships
I do plan to show her a map of the world and to help her identify where each of these countries are located. But what I’ve realised is that any depth of association to these countries lies in her relationships.
As long as Grandma and Grandpa, cousins, Aunts and Uncles are in her life, she will hopefully always feel connection to where she’s ‘from’. Grandparents who teach her Yoruba, cousins who talk to her over FaceTime talking about their lives in Canada, and more grandparents who serve up feasts of Persian rice and steaming hot stews.
And yet, her everyday experience and friends will connect her more than anything to the UK. Like many third culture kids, her accent will change with every person she speaks to. And I’m okay with that. Being mixed and biracial, the ultimate positive is that she has options.
One reader commented that by the time our little ones grow up, their world will be a blended mix of all different backgrounds and cultures. So perhaps hers and other mixed heritage kids’ experience will be different than mine. When the teacher asks, “Sweetheart, where are you from?” She’ll have her answer ready, confidently reeling off her list. I can’t tell her how to answer but I can sure as heck make sure she has one.