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The Dirty Room: A Cross-Cultural Communication Riddle


Several years ago, I had an awesome job that included placing college students to live with local, Los Angeles immigrant families. As you might expect, there were the occasional cultural miscommunications.

One in particular stands out in my mind because it illuminated so clearly differences in communication styles. It also struck me because Billy and I immediately saw the experience through completely different lenses.

So I'll lay out the scenario, and you let me know in the comments what you think is going on.

Two American girls are living with a Filipino family.

The two girls are quite messy, though they have kept their mess limited to their shared bedroom.

One day, the woman of the house comes to the girls and lets them know that they are expecting visitors who will want to see the house, including their bedroom.

The girls understand and proceed to shove their mess into the closet, making their room presentable for the aforementioned guests. 

A day or two later, the girls learn that no guests are coming. In fact, no guests were ever expected. 

The girls call me. They are furious and hurt. The house mom also calls me. She, too, is furious and hurt. 


What's your take on this cross-cultural communication riddle?
Image credit: Ye Olde Wig Shoppe
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Pucker Up! A Bicultural Kid Conundrum


"Mom, we do not kiss kids at school."

I'm tucking Gabriella under the covers when she tells me this handy tip. I'm resisting a full-on face palm. Of course I'm the mother of the classroom kisser.

"Um... were you kissing kids at school, Gabriella?" Please say no. Please say no.

"Yes." Oh dear. "Well, I was playing with Anthony, and his daddy came to pick him up. So I gave him a hug and a kiss. And Ms Kayce couldn't stop laughing. And she told me 'we do not kiss kids at school.'"

"Where did you kiss him?" I asked.

"On the cheek."

And I couldn't help but smile and giggle a little bit myself. Billy has always taught our kids to hug and kiss people good-bye. It's cultural. And it's a habit Gabriella has truly "embraced."

I am so used to her hugging and kissing her friends good-bye that I've never stopped to think how they may feel. Of course, at our Latino church, it's no big deal. And most non-Latino friends in our circle don't seem to have a problem with it. It honestly never occurred to me that she would be kissing friends good-bye at school.

But she is. I am the mother of the classroom kisser.

So I'm feeling a bit stuck. I think I mumbled something about how yes, we don't kiss kids at school. Maybe I mentioned that we do kiss kids at church. I'm sure whatever I said was inspired and clear.

Basically, I'm trying to figure out how to teach my daughter to code switch. If you've not heard that term before, it's technically a linguistics term used to describe the act of switching between different languages or variations in a single conversation. Thanks to NPR, code switch is starting to be used more broadly to describe all the ways we adjust our language and actions based on cultural situations.

I feel responsible to teach Gabriella how to adjust her greetings and kissings based on her cultural context. But there's another part of me that worries I shouldn't. Another whisper in my brain says I should talk to the teacher and explain she's half-Latina and will continue kissing children good-bye. I probably won't do that, but still I wonder.

At the same time, I've watched and read enough immigrant stories to recognize the proverbial "stinky lunchbox" we are sending with her to school. I don't want her to feel reprimanded or mocked for the things we teach her. I never want her to look back and say, "My parents taught me to kiss kids and then I was made fun of at school."

Thankfully, Gabriella didn't seem to feel any sense of shame. I think she liked the feeling of making her teacher laugh more than anything. But I'm definitely entering new territory parenting a bicultural kid. I feel pulled between my desire to help her embrace her multicultural identity and my hope that she will not feel embarrassed in front of her classmates.

I'd love to hear your thoughts or experiences. I've had this nagging feeling that I may need to circle back around with her about the incident at school, but I'm still not sure what to tell her. What would you say? 

I promise not to spam you. (I'm not even sure I know how to!)

Children Who Cross Borders Without Parents [Interview]


Last year, the buzz of the child migration crisis seemed to be everywhere. Politician were loving it, slinging mud and placing blame. All the while, families were suffering and kids were dying.

The topic has since disappeared from news outlets, though of course not from reality. I recently watched the documentary Which Way Home, and I was reminded of this challenging and heart-breaking situation going on.

I reached out to my friend Jenelle, who is a social worker and works exclusively with children who crossed the border. She graciously agreed to sit down with me for an interview.

This video is a little longer (15 min) than my typical videos, but I think you'll find her insight helpful and interesting. I know I did!

(Note: If you're reading this via email or RSS, you may need to click here to watch the video.)


I wish I could have captured everything Jenelle shared before and even after the filming, but I wanted to keep the video short-ish. This topic, of course, cannot be reduced to fifteen minutes, and I know it's only a start.

If you're interested in other posts I've written on the subject, they are:

Children Crossing the Border: An Administration-Made Disaster? 
If It Were My Child
Riding Trains and Chewing Bubble Gum: Thoughts on Child Migration From Which Way Home

For all my posts on immigration, click here.

Finally, a couple more resources. Jenelle offered some links to share as well. While another surge of unaccompanied minors is expected again this summer, current crossings are down from last year. You can read those stats here.

And the other article she suggested:

Dramatic Surge in the Arrival of Unaccompanied Children Has Deep Roots and No Simple Solutions

Feel free to leave comments or questions you may have for me or Jenelle. I'll try to loop her in, if need be!

P.S. We filmed this with my husband's video camera. Don't we look crazy? Like we're chatting with you from inside a fish bowl?

Image credit: Nathan Gibbs
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