Sunday, February 13, 2011

Multi-race children, confusion or clarity?

Today, DH was reading this link, he had gotten from a friend's facebook page. I saw the title and was instantly interested and made him pass me the link. The article talks about people who are multi-race.

I've been thinking about this for a while. Will my children be completely confused? Will they be dominated by their dad's Bengali culture? How will their Bengali culture affect their actions? How will their upbringing be? Will they be confused?

Well, in this article the subjects go on to say that they know they are Asian and proud of it.

I'm more afraid because here in India, the aunts and uncles are more specifically labelled, as per their age / line on the totem pole. Like, the oldest aunt (or uncle's wife too) is called boro maima or boro mamima. And on (I am not entirely sure of all the names, so I am not giving them all...) and in the US we call our aunts and uncles, as Aunt GivenName and Uncle you can see how it would be a bit confusing for the children. But, then again, given that they will be brought up with both cultures, maybe it won't be so confusing?

While DH and I were discussing this topic just earlier, we had compared our friends situation to ours. Our 2 friends live in the US, and have 3 year old twin boys. While both of them can speak and understand English perfectly, one of them can speak and understand Bengali quite well, while the other one can understand it but not speak it. I believe this is because of how they are brought up, (our children will be brought up to speak both Bengali and English from the time they are born). These kids are essentially US citizens with Indian heritage, but their exposure to English and American culture is much more than the 1 month they spend in India every year or so.

Any thoughts? I will write more about this later, its just 1am, and I'm tired :-)


  1. If you guys are still in India when you have kids it will be a different situation than if you are in the US. I think either way, things will fall into place. As long as each culture is given respect (especially the non-dominant one depending on where you are settled), and both parents are positive about both cultures, the kids will love and appreciate both "sides."

    Both of my girls can understand Urdu but within months of being in the US, they are speaking completely in English. We are staying with my parents now, so maybe once we move on our own we can reinforce Urdu more. I know there will always be weaknesses in their Urdu and they will be English dominant, but as long as they can get by and understand, I will feel that I have done my job.

  2. Just wanted to leave a comment as a multiracial woman (half Indian, half white). I've had a lot of people ask me this question--"is it confusing for you," "it must be so hard knowing that you can't totally belong to one culture or another," etc. I just want to say that's not true.

    I really think being multiracial gets you the best of both worlds--you get to belong to two different cultures/traditions!--and I also think that in the end, we make our own decisions about how to relate to our own cultures. Ultimately we get to choose what influences us, on our own terms.

    I think the best way to do this is to expose your children to as many traditions/languages/foods/etc. as you can. They probably won't pick up everything, but they will (trust me) appreciate the richness of the choices they've been given.

    Loved your post :) Thanks for writing about it.

  3. @Lucky Fatima,

    yeah, I hope so! considering we are living in India, I will have to make the American holidays that have meaning to me (like Thanksgiving, Christmas, and birthdays) extra significance! :-)

    Like today I was telling DH that we are going for out dinner tonight for Valentines Day tomorrow. His reaction? I don't celebrate it, and replied, Well, I do, it's an American holiday. I celebrate (or not...) your holidays, so do the same for me! :-)


    Thanks for commenting. I agree, being multiracial gets you the best of both worlds.

    I hope to write about more things in the future as I find the time and the motivation. :)

  4. I'm i this situation right now, with a 19 month old daughter, but DH and I are pretty clear where we as a familly stand on the cultural thing, and I think this is what matter, kids who grow up in a multicultural environment where the parents stand as a united front ar far less confused than those in famillies where there is confusions with the grown ups.
    My speak French to my daughter, DH speaks hindi, she will pick up English hearing us talk to one another, from school and TV. We celebrate both the Indian festivals that matter to DH and the Swiss one that are part of my own heritage. And we just don't care what other people think about what we do and how we do it :)
    In a way DH adn I are creating our own culture out of two I guess

  5. Thanks for sharing the interesting article!

    I'm glad that Maria commented from her insider's perspective/personal experience. I definately agree it is best to expose children to as much as possible from both parents' cultures and at the same time keep in mind that they are ultimately their own person, will make their own choices, and will form their own identity.

  6. @Cyn,

    I am not in this situation yet, but I've thought about it before. I'm sure my children will learn a lot of husband speaks 4 or 5 (english, hindi, bangla, urdu, and others...) languages fluently. Our children will most likely speak at least english, hindi, and bangla fluently. :-)

    That is an interesting way of putting it Cyn. :-) "creating our own culture out of two" love it!!

  7. I'm not in this situation yet either, but I do sometimes neurotically obsess over what we'll do as parents. I think about how we'll raise the kids to understand both Christianity and Hinduism without thinking that either is better or worse, and what we'll do about language. I'm mostly learning Hindi for the benefit of my future kids, but Mr. 4B still thinks that the kids will somehow magically pick up Marathi. I know from growing up with children of immigrant parents who kind of thought their children would just somehow pick up language and religion that these things cannot be learned through osmosis--parents have to create some kind of structure.

    Still, at the end of the day, I wonder if I'm kidding myself. Amidst all the things you need while raising kids anyway, will there be time and energy for CCD and Hindu Sunday school? Will there be time amidst all the homework and projects and whatnot for special Hindi lessons? Who knows. Kind of a lot to think about.

  8. Just came across this blog & love it. Here's my two cents on this:
    Our daughter (indo-german) grows up trilingual. She is 16months old. We are currently living in Mumbai away from my in-laws, which means her exposure to Hindi is very low. My husband and most people around us speak to her in English while I speak to her in German. Since I spend most time with her, her German is at the moment much better than her other languages. It's grueling business to always stick to one language, e.g. it is somewhat complicated when we meet other children and I continue to speak in German, but if i switch to English I can see her confusion. But I think it is rewarding in the long run.

  9. Our kids manage to switch between bengali and bengali relationships at home and english ones to others quite well; so I would say the multicultural upbringing would be an advantage.

    The only difficulty the older one faced was when she mentioned at school that she has "bhai" at home now and everyone assumed that that was the name of her brother.

  10. I think you've got a good basis being in India but with your first language not being Bengali. The country you are in is important and your mother's first language is important. Your children are likely to be at least bilingual. I'm mixed but my mother's first language was English (she only learned Hindi at school) as she is Anglo Indian and left when she was 12. My father is English. And I was born in England. So nothing to pick up from them. My husband's parents both Bengali but deliberately did not speak to him in Bengali (and he was born in England) The result? He can follow what is happening but cannot speak. Yet he knows what he is saying when his lack of English is mocked but cannot make a retort - how unfair is that?! I tried to get my MIL to make amends by speaking Bengali to our two kids but she will not.

    Result? I have taken up the baton. I can read and write now.
    Maybe between my husband and I we will get there. He will be able to follow what I say at any rate. It's so odd the way he can understand a conversation but not translate any specific part of it.