What it means to raise a multicultural daughter.
My daughter is half Japanese, half American, (hafu). I believe that her ethnicity is important and I will do anything to make sure that she understands who she is. I want her to visit Tokyo. I want her to speak Japanese fluently. I want her to be free to explore her Japanese heritage. She lives in the United States so she can’t help but get exposed to her American culture.
Luckily there is an amazing Japanese community here in Denver. It’s kind of a tragic story though. Unlike most of the country in the late 1800s and early 1900s Colorado already had a significant Japanese population. Contrary to popular belief most Japanese people “voluntarily” relocated to Colorado. I put that word in quotes because they “volunteered” in so much that they were given a choice of voluntary relocation or being confined in an internment camp.
The internment camp was in Granada, Colorado and was nicknamed, (Amache). 7,318 Japanese, mostly US citizens, were confined there from 1942 – 1945. Anti-Japanese sentiment was rampant in most of the country but then Governor Ralph L. Carr welcomed Japanese people to Colorado stating, “They are as loyal to American institutions as you and I.” He was the only Governor of a western state to welcome the Japanese being forced to relocate to other states from the west coast. In a campaign speech he said:
They are not going to take over the vegetable business of this state, and they are not going to take over the Arkansas Valley. But the Japanese are protected by the same Constitution that protects us. An American citizen of Japanese descent has the same rights as any other citizen… If you harm them, you must first harm me. I was brought up in small towns where I knew the shame and dishonor of race hatred. I grew to despise it because it threatened [pointing to various audience members] the happiness of you and you and you.
The Japanese culture never forgot Governor Carr’s welcome and in 1976 they erected a bronze bust of him in Sakura Square, downtown Denver.
Raising a well balanced daughter.
The tagline of this blog is something I struggled with. There are a lot of blogs about raising kids and they all use the term “well-rounded”. I wanted to primarily differentiate myself and also find a term that fits. Well balanced to me and to this blog means the following:
- …will be kind, but she will know when to fight and stick up for herself and others.
- …will know she is beautiful, but she will also know that in the grand scheme of things it doesn’t really matter.
- …will be a good friend, (like her mom), but will know to cut ties when she is being taken advantage of.
- …will be encouraged to succeed, but she will know that it is OK to fail.
- …will be proud of her Japanese heritage, but still be a loyal and devoted American Citizen.
You see, for me it is about balance, hence the tagline. I think a lot of parents go wrong by forcing their children to one extreme or the other. I don’t believe in pushing your children into sports, or certain careers, or academic paths. They need to be parented by guidance. But this by no means, means that you need to be soft. The hammer of justice still needs to fall swift and hard.
Before you start dialing CPS, I don’t mean physical abuse. I mean that your children need to know that they will be allowed to make mistakes, but that those mistakes carry real consequences. I told my wife while she was still pregnant that we have to be careful what we say. If we punish our daughter out of anger we have to stick with it. We can not let up. If my wife gets mad and says, “That’s IT! You’re grounded for a month!” Well then guess what? We aren’t going to be going anywhere or doing anything fun for about 30 days.
It is as simple as that, “Say what you mean, and mean what you say“. This shouldn’t be about just the harsh punishments either. It should apply to everything you say. As a poignant example, I was at the Denver Zoo the other day and witnessed the following exchange between a mother and maybe a 5 or 6 year old girl, (not the real name by the way):
Sarah!Red light!Red Light Sarah!SARAH, RED LIGHT!OK, If you don’t stop you are going in the stroller!RED LIGHT SARAH!OK, that’s it you are going in the stroller!RED LIGHT SARAH!SARAH RED LIGHT! [finally catching up to the child] Sarah, if you run off again you are going in the stroller…RED LIGHT SARAH!!!
Not only is this extremely STRESSFUL for everyone around, it is stressful for the mom AND for Sarah. I don’t know if you caught the important bit or not but the mother threatened the stroller, and then said that she was going in the stroller, but then didn’t put her in the stroller.
Imagine if you robbed a bank and you get away with $50,000. A Police Officer sees you and says, “Hey you, stop right there”, but you keep going and the Police Officer finally catches you and then says, “If you rob another bank you are going to jail”. You rob another bank down the street and then you hear, “Hey, you stop right there! If you rob another bank you are going to jail…” Guess what? You just discovered a VERY lucrative career path.
This particular mother made the mistake I warned my wife about. She threatened and didn’t follow through. So now how is her daughter ever supposed to take her seriously.
Off on a tangent.
I know that I went off on a bit of a tangent just now. I do that often and if you will bear with me I promise it won’t be mindless rambling and you will almost always learn something.
As far as raising my daughter to appreciate Japanese culture. I will not force her. For the mean time, I will be acting as her parent and doing what I see best for her by teaching her about Japan and getting a tutor to teach her Japanese. If one day she tells me that she doesn’t want to learn about Japan or study Japanese anymore then we will stop.
As for the rest of you with multicultural children, don’t be afraid of, or try to prevent your child from exploring the culture opposite to yourself. In the long run it will benefit you and your child. There is nothing wrong with diversity. I believe that the more experiences we have in our lives the better prepared we are to handle situations that arise in the future.
I will leave you with a few action items to help you make multiculturalism a fun part of your lives. I will use the words Japan or Japanese because it applies to our situation but feel free to replace them with your own culture:
- You could have Japanese Meal Night. Where you serve traditional food from Japan.
- Listen to Japanese music, watch Japanese cartoons or TV shows, read books in Japanese.
- Go to Japanese events in your community.
- Take part in Japanese festivals and celebrations.
- Take time to talk to Japanese elders. Ask them to tell you stories, ask them for advice.
- Unless you already speak both languages on a regular basis already, designate a day where you only speak Japanese.
Thanks for reading.
P.S. I am currently working on an article about the Japanese American Community Graduation Program and how I will use it to keep my daughter interested and driven in her schoolwork. It is a great organization and can be contacted here if you would like more info. Please subscribe to my newsletter so you will know when that post comes out if you are interested.