Preserving culture and mango pickles

Preserving culture and mango pickles
Preserving culture and mango pickles

I’m an immigrant. My son is a first-generation American who happens to be of both Salvadoran and South Indian descent, a unique mish-mash for sure. Both of these traditions are rich, vibrant and a significant thread in the fabric of our family.

My husband and I both love and appreciate where we came from — it will always be ingrained in us — and I feel so lucky to have a husband who is game enough to wear traditional Indian men’s clothing and even eat varying degrees of spice with a straight face, sans passing out. And while we have lots of fun, it isn’t just about us anymore.

My little chickpea is blessed to have been born in this country of equality and liberty. He’ll grow up eating American food (most of the time), watching American football or baseball, and probably even end up with an American accent. However, he might also compete in the National Spelling Bee competition and get shipped off to medical school before he can even read. (Yes, I’m THAT Indian helicopter mother. No shame here.) I want him to truly understand what it means to be an American and never take it for granted — knowing that sacrifices were made so he could have a chance at a bright future. I want him to know that Memorial Day, Independence Day and Thanksgiving have more meaning than just an excuse for backyard barbecues and giant turkeys. But I also want him to embrace his parents’ roots, since they are big part of his identity.

Now that he’s four years old, my son is able to understand why “Nana” only visits us once a year; he knows that she lives in a far, far away land called India. It’s also easier now to teach him words in my native language, albeit with a hideous accent. (My grandmother would wail if she heard me.) I enjoy showing him old family and childhood pictures and allowing him to be my sous chef when I’m making curry, listening to classical Ravi Shankar.

Preserving culture
Preserving culture

We recently celebrated “Onam” — the annual rice harvest festival of Kerala — at my home in Orlando for the first time. It was special for me, because I was sharing many years of tradition with my son. He may not completely understand why we’re eating rice off banana leaves with our hands or creating a design on the patio with flower petals, but this is just the beginning.

In another relevant way, we recently celebrated Hispanic Heritage month. It was a great opportunity to acknowledge and celebrate my son’s Latin side! I tend to be over-ambitious with my projects, and then pull my hair out in exasperation when they don’t turn out as planned — sort of like that grandiose Thanksgiving dinner. So I’ve decided to be more realistic and remember that my son is only four years old. My husband has begun teaching him words and phrases in Spanish so he can communicate with his “Abuela.” (My Spanish leaves much to be desired, but that’s what apps are for.) I’m a little challenged on the creative side, but somehow I managed to come up with a list of things to do with my son to commemorate the month:

  • Read bilingual books with him. The Orange County Public librarian has become my new best friend.
  • Have him cook Latin food with me — something simple that won’t leave my mother-in-law horrified — or maybe take him out for “pupusas,” a ubiquitous Salvadoran staple.
  • Color pictures of Latin American flags.
  • Listen to Spanish music or watch a movie/cartoon in Spanish (I think I’ll skip the “novelas.”)

Again, this is just the beginning. Our heritage is a legacy to be passed down from generation to generation — an essential ingredient in a melting pot like America. Behind the secret mango pickle recipe, the old cast iron skillet that belonged to great grandma, and that grainy, faded family photograph, is a story.

I’m sure your family is similar; so tell the old stories to your children. Show them how to connect with your heritage, and keep it alive any way you can.

There are only two lasting bequests we can hope to give our children. One of these is roots, the other, wings. – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe



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