So what is going on with the third-generation? How much of the culture are we passing on to them and are they learning it? It’s important to make sure that we, as parents, are going beyond the food, fashion, and fads of our culture. Take a moment this month to reflect back on what your children actually know about the Asian Indian culture. Are they learning about their culture simply from eating the food, wearing the clothes, and watching the Bollywood movies? Or are you passing on more?
I know this is difficult because of a couple reasons: a) getting your children interested in the culture b) finding cultural activities/organizations in your area c) having the time to take your children d) prioritizing which activities to focus on.
And of course, there are a lot more issues when you think about second-generation parents who were primarily raised in the United States. Many of them may feel like they don’t know enough about their culture to teach their own children. In addition, I have often heard from first-generation parents (who were primarily raised in India) that they struggle to relate to their children and the American values that they are being raised with in schools and in society. Many times these children feel like their parents are enforcing parts of their culture that are outdated or placing unreasonable expectations on them based on their culture (i.e. cultural and generational gap).
Some families seek cultural organizations to educate their children. I think this would work as long as the children enjoy being there. I don’t think it is something that should be forced because if children do not show an interest, most likely they will not be learning much. I know in the bay area there are some organizations that I have looked such as the Chinmaya Mission, Indian Community Center , and Gandhi Camp . These are all great organizations that have developed a curriculum to teach specific values to our children.
Multicultural children’s books are also a great way to help children make connections with their culture. Children love to hear stories! By reading books about their culture, children are able to have their cultural identity validated in the world. This helps them develop a better understanding of who they are and is great for their self-esteem. This is also a great way for parents to teach their children about various aspects of their culture. I have found myself turning more and more to children’s book to capture my own son’s attention and interest in learning about his culture. One particular book that fascinates him about the various gods is the Little Book of Hindu Book of Deities.
In addition, I have also discovered that a more grassroots effort to teach my son about culture has also worked. This year, I got together with some of his Indian friends from school (first and second-generation parents) and we celebrated Diwali by making it fun and educational.
For the fun part: We had Diwali coloring sheets, Diwali bingo, Diwali firecrackers, etc.
For the educational part: We did a mini-skit using props and pictures and told the story of how Ravana (an evil demon) had taken Lord Rama’s wife Sita. When Sita was taken, she started to drop her jewelry in order to leave a trail behind. Thus, Rama was able to follow the “row of lights” or her jewelry to save Sita from the evil demon Ravana. We talked about the moral of the story “how light triumphs darkness” and we talked about how this relates to what they were learning in school—light vs. dark, good vs. bad, right choices vs. wrong choices. This conversation was really important because it allowed for children to make connections between what they were learning about the Indian culture and what was happening in their own lives.
This month, is also important because we are celebrating Goddess Saraswati. Saraswati is the goddess of knowledge. Saraswati provides us with the ability to remember, to think, and to create. Without Saraswati, there is often chaos and confusion. She lives in schools and libraries and provides children with the tools (books, paper, pencils, etc.) to learn. This is a perfect cultural celebration that can be catered to what your children are directly learning in school.
When I was growing up, I remember taking my textbooks home on this day to keep in front of Saraswati. I prayed to her to give me that extra push I needed with difficult subject matters (usually math). I think all our children can relate to Saraswati Puja and praying for the “free flow of wisdom and consciousness” when it comes to difficult subject matters! I have my own son pray to her in the morning to help him “focus” during circle time in preschool. It is often difficult for young children to sit and concentrate during that time of the day so he asks Saraswati for help. I think just the act of doing that every morning helps him do better during in circle time. He knows someone is there to support him during his most difficult time of the day.
Children’s books and cultural celebrations are fun for children. So it really is the best way to get them interested about their culture and helps them learn more about the values and morals that are as associated with their culture. It’s also fun for children when their friends are involved. This year, make a commitment to passing on the Indian culture to your children. Make it meaningful to your children and always connect it back to what your children are learning in school and/or in society.
By Amita Roy Shah, Ed.D.