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Tacos and Cake: A Multicultural Heritage

Heritage.

When I hear that word, I immediately think of my children. Partly because much of my time in this life season is dedicated to helping them develop and grow. And also because I am very intentional about their multicultural heritage and identity development.

Quite frankly, I often think of them as having heritage because they’re half Guatemalan. Like many white people, though, I can fall into the trap of thinking of myself as culture-less… heritage-less.

My maternal grandfather has researched our German genealogy. And with a very German maiden name, my paternal line is committed to that story as well.

While completing a school paper in college, I had to interview my paternal grandfather. It was then that I learned just how recently German had been spoken in our family’s home.

However like many families of European decent, unique languages and cultural characteristics soon disappeared into the assimilation of a new “American culture.” Before long, the phrase “melting pot” was used to describe the immigrant experience of these European migrants.

I was in high school before I heard anyone challenge the “melting pot” analogy. She substituted “tossed salad,” explaining a tasty mixture that worked well together but maintained the unique characteristics of each ingredient. I didn’t really know what to think of that, but it stuck in my mind.

But I don’t feel German. And to pursue that cultural history in search of my “heritage” feels false to me. I am white American. I live in an African-American community. I’m married to a Guatemalan and spend a great deal of time in a Spanish, or Latino, context. I’m raising bilingual, Guatemalan-American kids.

So maybe that is the heritage I pass down to my children. A product of the “melting pot,” but a proponent of valuing diversity. I teach them two languages and how to navigate varied, cultural contexts. Eating tacos al pastor and pizza, not to mention saltado, which is our favorite Peruvian dish. Because even though we’re not from Peru, the US has often appropriated food, music, dress and much else from global cultures and blended them together.

Cultural fusion is a part of American heritage.

In planning our wedding, I wanted to include some Guatemalan traditions. Billy maintained that many weddings he’d attended were modeled after American weddings, so he couldn’t think of anything to meet my request.

He did tell me we could have my father break a piñata of rice over our heads at the reception. I felt a tad conflicted when, after begging, I then vetoed his suggestion. However, we had each table share a toast privately in the midst of the festivities, which he said was more akin to how toasts are given in Guatemala.

I had also decided I didn’t want a wedding cake. Instead, I chose several round cakes of different flavors. Basically, I felt tasting all the scrumptious varieties made a reasonable excuse to eat more cake.

But as I stood with my grandmother at our reception, she saw all the cakes and said, “Ah. That’s a German wedding tradition: multiple cakes instead of just the one.”

So my hope for my children is still that they will develop a deeply multicultural heritage. We will continue celebrating Guatemalan Independence Day and incorporating Nochebuena into our Christmas holiday. And we will focus on the best ways America has made space for diversity and enjoy all the different cultures living here.

And perhaps my German heritage will continue to pop up unexpectedly, surprising us with extra cake. And let’s be honest, cake is always welcome at the party as the best kind of surprise.

Do you feel connected to your heritage? What are the best things you hope to pass down to your children?

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