A Few of My Favorite Things {April 2015}

It's been a couple months since I joined in with Leigh Kramer's "What I'm Into" link-up. But April has been filled with obsessions, so a post seemed in order.


First, water. I'm INTO water this month. But not just any water. I have been drinking nothing but sparkling lemon water. Seriously. NOTHING BUT.

I've lost all taste for soda. I've been carrying my fancy water in my purse and busting it out at restaurants and in other people's homes. Because that's so normal. (Confession: I'm still drinking lots of coffee.)

The addiction is real, friends.

Audio Books

I forgot how much I adore audio books. My final semester in undergrad, I had three English courses and by extension, a foolish amount of novels to read. I remember driving home to Kentucky with my boom box and a bunch of C batteries, listening to One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest on CD.

Well, now I signed up for a free trial of Audible. (I will likely become a lifetime member on accident.) You get one free download with your free trial, so I enjoyed The Interestings for my book club. I'm now listening to Girl on the Train.

If you like audio books at all, you should definitely get a free trial a go. If you use my affiliate link, you can try Audible for free and also get TWO FREE audiobooks! And you don't have to keep your boom box in the passenger seat! Win-win.

Passing the Torch

I started taking my kids to the gym on Saturday mornings to play basketball. It's my favorite. Gabriella is practicing dribbling, and Isaac runs up and down the court kicking the ball. (I keep shouting, "Not soccer. Basketball!" to no avail.) I couldn't resist the photos:

Email Goodness

Billy went out of town this month. Gabriella went out of town this month. Therefore, for a while, it was just me and the boy. This prompted me to send out my first email newsletter. Because I assume people who sign up for my email list WILL NOT MURDER ME when they find out I'm home alone with an almost 2-year old.

If you think you fall into that category as well, you can sign up here. I'm aiming for a monthly newsletter. We'll see how it goes!

First Theater Experience

I took Gabriella to the movies for the very first time. It was so. much. fun. We were, of course, late. Partly because we went to a theater three hours away from our house. Ha! No, seriously, I thought it would be a fun break in our mommy-daughter road trip, so I looked up movie times in Tennessee.

We saw Home. And it was so funny and so cute. And about a daughter searching for her mother. And my tiny daughter curled up in the seat and leaned against me the whole time, and I sobbed like a baby.

I later read this article about the immigration themes in the movie, and I liked it even more. Such a good first theater experience!

Amazon Prime Now

So Amazon started a new service for Prime Members. (Of course I am a Prime member because I signed up for a free trial, forgot all about it, and later came across the charge on my credit card bill. Now I can never go back because I love it so much. If you want to give it a try, you can sign up here.)

Because now, Amazon will now deliver to your door in two hours FOR FREE. This, my friends, is a DANGEROUS service for a person who works at home... ahem, me.

Feel like candy? They'll bring it. Want more sparkling lemon water? THEY WILL BRING IT! Diapers. Dog food. It's like I'm on a personal mission to meet all the drivers. It's ridiculous. I must stop. (But that water....)


Spam has become my life.

It all started a couple months ago when I saw a Facebook promotion for free airplane tickets. Famous. Last. Words.

I am usually savvy to the internet scams of the world, but my brain was blinded by visions of free travel. FREE TRAVEL! I silenced all the warning bells when they were asking me who my car insurance provider was, how much money I make, and everything else. I only became suspicious when I was asked to buy a children's book to continue signing up.

Now, I field approximately 15 emails, 10 phone calls, and 2 text messages A DAY from random companies. It's ridiculous. Do I have any rights? Can I undo this terrible mistake? Seriously. If you know, please tell me. I will text you every day to say thank you.

All the Links

Here's a few favorite links I shared this month:

Canada Loves the Poop Emoji - because I'm obsessed with emojis, and who doesn't want to know global trends in emoji use????

The Best Account on Instagram and the Lie We Tell Each Day - "Dang TSA, you're just supposed to make sure I don't have too much peanut butter in my bag or a sword hidden in a cane."

The Most Entrepreneurial Group in America Wasn't Born in America - because it's helpful to understand a bigger framework for immigrants and jobs.

And here are a few posts on A Life with Subtitles that readers enjoyed:

Pucker Up! A Bicultural Kid Conundrum - because teaching your kids to "code switch" in a multicultural world is tricky.

The Dirty Room: A Cross-Cultural Communication Riddle - you all had some great insights to this slippery conversation and the follow-up "answer" post.

Helping Our Children Understand a Multicultural World - because of course we're pointing at strangers and asking "where is he from?"

I hope you've had a joyful April with less spam and more basketball. I'd love to hear what you've been up to. Happy May, everyone!
I promise not to spam you. (I'm not even sure I know how to!)

12 Gifs Only People At A Bilingual Church Will Understand

I love bilingual churches! I made a quick list, and I realized Billy and I have been to eleven Spanish or bilingual churches in our time together. Eleven!

It is truly a unique and beautiful experience, and I hope others with similar congregations will enjoy these fun gifs:

#1. When the whole church is laughing, but the joke hasn't been translated yet.

#2. When the joke is translated and you want to laugh, but the moment has passed.

#3. Or when the joke just doesn't make sense translated.

#4. When you meet someone new, and you're not sure which language to use.

#5. Then you realize after a couple minutes that you guessed wrong and they have no idea what you're saying.

#6. When you try to speak in your second language, but realize it didn't go as planned.

#7. When you find out the guest preacher will be speaking in the minority language.

#8. When they're all out of translation headsets.

#9. When you hear a familiar tune, but cannot figure out what song it is because the words are translated.

#10. When you suddenly learn that you are being introduced/prophesied about/asked a question from the pulpit.

#11. When you figure out a what a word in a song means all by yourself.

#12. When you look around the church and take in everyone worshipping God together in different languages.

Can you relate? What did I miss?

Thanks to Giphy for making all my gif dreams come true!

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

What I Learned from the Reader Survey

First of all, a HUGE thank you to all of you who completed the Reader Survey about a month ago. I was so grateful for the responses and your feedback. I know it can be an angsty process for some. Well, definitely for my mom.

Email from my mother: Sarah, the link to the survey is not working. I cannot figure it out.

Phone call a couple days later: Sarah, I decided not to fill it out because I'm your mom and not your audience. (Me: That's fine. No big deal.)

Phone call a week later: Sarah, I haven't filled it out yet, but I'm going to. (Seriously, Mom, don't worry about it.) But Sarah, I feel so bad. I want to support you!

So I just want to say to my mom: Don't worry! I feel supported. I know you like the blog, especially posts about the kids and posts that don't mention you in any capacity. I know you would like more posts about the kids and especially more photos of the kids.

But for those who did complete the survey, I want to say thank you so much. Your feedback helps me to know who is reading and what content is most helpful and fun for you. Here's a few things I learned from your responses.

What the Numbers Say

The demographic questions are always so interesting to me, revealing a bit about who visits A Life with Subtitles. First of all, we are heavily female (93%) - not to be confused with "heavy females." And the majority (51%) are in our 30's (woot! woot!) with the 20's being a significant runner-up (33%).

This is a heady group of readers - 41% have completed undergrad degrees and another 41% have finished graduate programs. With all those degrees, we should certainly be able to solve the lemon - lime debate, no?

Most of you live in the U.S. (89%), which is a bit of a jump since the last time I did this survey. And Guatemala is next in line (4%). State-wise, it was no surprise to see Georgia lead (25%). After that, though, was a three-way tie with California, Minnesota, and Pennsylvania (all 8%). Regardless of country and states, a significant portion (30%) of you live cross-culturally.

Probably most surprising to me was the make-up of family relationships. Most readers are married (67%) with another 15% in dating relationships. And while the majority of readers are white (76%), of those in relationships, 63% are in cross-cultural relationships. I suppose this shouldn't shock me, given the subject matter, but it did a little. Even more, 21% of those in relationships are currently, or were in the past, with undocumented immigrants.

Those in multicultural marriage cited language and communication as their number one challenge (33%) - ain't that that truth! Next was immigration issues (29%), followed by in-law relationships (25%) and outside racism & discrimination (25%). Other challenges included parenting views (21%), gender views (21%), money views (17%), and other (17%). I appreciated the write-in responses for other, namely loneliness, education, and dancing. (Billy and I have had significant dancing challenges. I love to dance, and his response is always "I'm a rocker!")

Finally, about half of you are parents (51%), but more interestingly, about half (52%) of parents are raising bilingual kids. The biggest challenge here was inconsistency (62%). Responses also included not being fluent personally (54%), other (38%), lack of resources (23%), and lack of support (8%). The "other" category detailed child resistance, child preference, and again, dancing. Ha! (My kids have this one down.)

What I'm Taking Away

#1. Don't shy away from cross-cultural marriage posts.

A lot of people I know personally who read the blog are not in multicultural marriages. And sometimes I wonder if this content really connects with anyone. It was super helpful to know how many readers are in similar relationships, and this topic came out on top (17%) of favorite categories.

#2. More diversity of cross-cultural marriage experiences. 

I have a really good relationship with my mother-in-law. And I'm not just saying that because she reads my blog. But when I read the popularity of difficulties like in-law relationships and outside racism, I was challenge to consider how to address these topics in ways that could be helpful and encouraging.

#3. I'm relieved of craft duty. 

For some reason, I occasionally convince myself that this blog needs more "mommy-like" posts about raising bilingual kids... you know, crafts and songs and recipes. Except I don't do any of that. (Except books... we do books.) But seeing the numbers of those raising bilingual kids, I think I can let go of that bizarre idea. In fact, the topic tied for fourth with immigration (13%) and fell behind race and culture and multicultural identity. Recent posts have confirmed to me that posts about raising kids are most appreciated in the broader context of identity and culture... not drawing country flags. Thank you for that.

#4. I have the best readers in the world!

Seriously, you all gave such supportive and kind feedback. And you're funny! My favorite response used the word "creepy" more than once, and another encouraged me to offer Star Wars VII spoilers. But I was especially blown away to discover that so many of you (86%) have passed along A Life with Subtitles to a friend. I am so touched and tell you thank you from the bottom of my heart. (If I had your addresses, a note would be on the way!)

Thanks again for taking the time to complete the survey and for joining me on this multicultural journey. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments. Also, many of you said you have your own blogs. I'd also love for you to leave a link in the comments so I can be one of your readers, too!
I promise not to spam you. (I'm not even sure I know how to!)

When a Sitcom Made Me Cry

It's been an interesting year for diversity on TV. From the Shonda trifecta (Grey's Anatomy, Scandal, and How to Get Away with Murder) to a slate of new, multicultural sitcoms, there's been a variety of faces on the television recently. NPR described this year's TV lineup as having an "almost unheard of level of ethnic diversity."

I never intended to blog so much about television. Not only does it reveal how much I watch (my secret shame!), but it feels a little bit outside what I write about here. Except it hasn't.

What's kept me coming back to the boob tube over the past few months is how much I have been able to relate to the stories in these diverse shows. What I've appreciated most is that race and culture topics have not been ignored, but have been presented in humorous, relatable ways. (My favorite!)

I've been writing about TV because it does connect to my life and experience. We've witnessed the various, uncomfortable ways people can relate to intercultural couples like Cristela showed. We relate to Jane the Virgin's worry about immigration. We've experienced the same nervousness and sometimes overwhelm living cross-culturally that Fresh Off the Boat demonstrates. And we're more than familiar with Spanglish conversations at home.

These shows have continued to find ways to address real issues, such as racism in the workplace, cultural identity, and immigrant parent expectations, without sacrificing humor and entertainment value. That's no easy task!

This week I watched the season finale of Fresh Off the Boat where the Huangs are getting settled into their new, Tampa life. In fact, they've been invited to join the country club, "the ultimate symbol of success" for mom Jessica.

When the Huang couple proudly announces they'll be the first Asian-American members, their white friend responds, "You know, sometimes I forget you guys are Chinese."

Jessica inquires further, and the white wife adds, "You guys are just like regular old Americans to us." And she laughs. I almost yelped.

This exchange pushes Jessica to enroll the boys in Mandarin school, stop cooking macaroni and cheese, and start dressing "like Chun Li from Street Fighter." She has an impassioned conversation with her husband about how their family, she worries, is losing their identity.

At that moment, her son walks in and asks for help with his Mandarin so he can speak to their grandma. She is so proud until he continues, "How do you say, 'Can you say that in English, grandma?'"

Then I felt myself tear up. I worry about my kid's bilingual skills, about how their life in the U.S. will cause them to not feel connected to their Guatemalan heritage. Maintaining a flexible, multicultural identity is a challenge, and it always comes with some form of loss. Jessica Huang captured that mother's fear for me.

I'm grateful that the networks promoted more diversity this season, and I'm glad these shows have been doing pretty well. The future is still uncertain for several, including Fresh Off the Boat and Cristela. I hope they return, and I'm still looking for a quality sitcom about cross-cultural families like ours!
Did you watch the diverse shows this season? Which was your favorite? 

Living On One Dollar: A Review

We always enjoy a good documentary, especially when it relates to Guatemala. So when we came across Living On One Dollar on Netflix, we were intrigued. We were also nervous.

It's always a little unsettling not knowing how someone might represent a country that you love. Will they only see the challenges? Or will they describe the beauty and the pain? Will they recognize the difficulties with nuanced compassion?

So we watched Living On One Dollar, and we put together this short video with our thoughts on the film. Enjoy!

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

Have you seen the movie? What did you think?

When A Lie Is Not A Lie

If you haven't read The Dirty Room: A Cross-Cultural Communication Riddle, this post is a follow up. 

I was recounting the dirty room story to my mom once when Billy overheard and jumped in: "Oh, the mom is totally asking them to clean up the room."

We both stared at him. "How did you know that?" I asked him.

He looked at me dumbfounded. "It's obvious. She asking them politely."

I have to admit, when I was first drawn into this situation, I had a hard time understanding the host mother's position. After all, if she wanted the girls to clean the room, why didn't she just ask? I thought the request was totally appropriate, but the "roundabout" method muddied the waters.

"She did ask!" Billy assured me. "It's very clear. She just didn't want to embarrass the girls or make them feel like they were dirty."

"But they were dirty."

He laughs. "Yeah, but she's not going to say that. They're her guests, too. She asked that way to protect their feelings." Or as some savvy commenters noted on the original post, to "save face."

It absolutely stunned me how Billy immediately and passionately knew exactly what the host mom was communicating beneath the words. Many Asian cultures utilize indirect communication to approach touchy topics. Similarly, Guatemalans often favor indirect communication styles as well.

Sometimes my whole life feels like a cross-cultural communication riddle.

A Guatemalan Would Never Have Asked Me That

Once Billy and I were with a group of non-Latino U.S. friends. In the course of conversation, someone asked for Billy's help on a project, and he happily agreed. When we left, Billy was livid.

He was appalled that he had been asked to help in this specific way, and he listed the reasons, which were common knowledge among this group of people. I was dumbfounded. "Um... if you didn't want to do it, why didn't you say 'no'?"

"That would be so rude!" he bemoaned. I was even more confused. Finally, he got to the crux of the matter. "I am not supposed to have to say no. They were supposed to know not to ask given what they already know about this situation." Oh dear. "A Guatemalan would never have asked me that," he added.

That encounter blew my mind and opened my eyes to some of these fundamental differences in the ways we communicate.

Because you know what's rude to me? When people say 'yes' to something when they really want to say 'no.' Or worse, saying 'yes' when they have no intention of following through because they really mean 'no,' but I didn't get the memo. In other words, I'm not interpreting all the signals.

This article does a great job of sharing examples in business where communication differences confuse working relationships. The 'yes' and 'no' subtleties are also common in Japan. The article says, "When the Japanese need to reply in the negative - whether it's to refuse, decline, disagree, or just say 'no' - it is fraught with subtlety and nuance. Fortunately (actually, more like intentionally, and by design), the Japanese have a small arsenal of non-verbal cues they can use."

In my years of living with a Guatemalan, I have gotten much better and reading the indirect clues. I still have no idea how to communicate indirectly. In fact, like the good, direct American girl I am, I am often sending texts in all caps: "WHY DO YOU EAT ALL THE CRACKERS AND PUT THE EMPTY BOX BACK IN THE PANTRY? I HAVE BEEN BETRAYED!!!!" Subtle is my middle name.

All Guatemalans Are Liars?

In the case of the dirty room, some of my students really struggled with the feeling that they had been lied to. The direct communicator in me empathizes, as well as my Evangelical background which places great importance on honesty.

But is it really a lie when your listeners understand what you're saying? If this mom had been talking to Billy, he wouldn't have felt lied to. He got the message loud and clear.

Billy and I once listened to an American missionary who lives and works in Guatemala say that all Guatemalans are liars. (I guess her direct nature had no problem saying this to Billy?)

As he and I reflected on this statement later, Billy said to me, "Guatemalans are so polite that to say 'no' to your face is like the worst thing ever. Even after all these years living in Guate, she has not learned how to read what people are saying. She hasn't learned the language."

Translating Subtext

When living cross-culturally, we have to truly learn the language, which can be so much more than vocabulary. We must sometimes yield our own communication styles and preferences to truly listen to what the other person is saying in his own way. Easier said than done, I totally get that.

Even now, there are times I totally can't get it. I'll look at Billy and ask, "What are you saying to me right now?" It's a learning process, to be sure.

Shout out to many of you who chimed in on Facebook and in the comments of the riddle. You all saw right through what was happening in our scenario. The mystery of the dirty room? Solved!

How have you seen communication extend beyond the actual words?

Image credit: Kevin O'Mara 
I promise not to spam you. (I'm not even sure I know how to!)

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. 

To see the "answer," click here.

What's your take on this cross-cultural communication riddle?
Image credit: Ye Olde Wig Shoppe
I promise not to spam you. (I'm not even sure I know how to!)

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

What A Word Can Say About Your Family

Our words and our thoughts are interconnected. I've been reading up on a fascinating little concept called "linguistic relativity." Broadly, it is the notion that our languages influence the ways we see the world. (Here's a short YouTube video, if you're interested.)

What got me thinking about linguistic relativity was this article on Huff Post Latino Voices entitled 7 (More) Spanish Words That Have No Direct English Translation. The first word in the list was consuegro/consuegra, the parents of one's son or daughter-in-law.

On one of my first visits to Guatemala, I met my sister-in-law's mother-in-law. She was introduced as family - my family. I love this concept! I think the fact that the word consuegros exists in Spanish alludes to the inclusion of in-laws in a more robust way than we typically foster in the U.S.

I could be wrong since this is my only marriage experience, but I feel like many parents of U.S. couples don't necessarily interact much after the wedding festivities. Because my in-laws were not able to get visas to attend our wedding, my parents flew down with us one Christmas to meet and visit. Since then, my mom and mother-in-law exchange gifts, ask about each other, and occasionally video chat when we are visiting one set. It's a beautiful relationship, in my opinion.

So I have been trying to broaden my definition of family to include more and more people. I don't think you can go wrong with that philosophy. And since I don't know the English words for these relationships (do they exist???), maybe I will make up my own...

Other favorites from Huff Po's list? The attention given to socialization around food. There's buen provecho, on of my favorite Spanish phrases which basically means "Enjoy your meal!" However, it is also said when leaving the table after eating, so I consider it also a form of "Thank you for dinner!"

And don't forget sobremesa (from the original piece), describing the period of conversation at the table once food is finished. Again, related to the lens of linguistic relativity, you could argue that food and social meals have a much more central role in Spanish culture. And the vocabulary reflects it!

Finally, I'll close with pena ajena, to be embarrassed for someone else. This is basically why I can hardly survive stand-up comedy. I'm so afraid the person won't be funny I nearly break out in hives on their behalf. I need this word! What does it say about culture? It could relate to the more collectivist nature of Latino cultures, or perhaps not.

Linguist relativity is apparently a contested topic in linguistic circles. (Who knew?) In my opinion, the interaction between language and culture seem unavoidable. But I'm interested to learn more and to hear what you think!
What do you think? Have you seen culture and words interact? Do any of the words from the Huffington Post article stand out to you?
Image credit: Jack Fussell

Helping Our Children Understand a Multicultural World

Gabriella slid into the chair and grabbed another chicken nugget. This is basically how our visits to Chick-fil-A go: we sit near the playground, they eat, they play, they eat some more, they play some more.

She chomped away and gestured to the Asian father and son still hanging out in the play area. "Mom, where did he come from?"

Not totally sure of what she meant (who is ever totally sure with 4 year olds?), I answered, "They came from in here."

"No, mom. Where did he come from?"

I had heard the father speaking to his son in a language that wasn't English, but I was still really curious if Gabriella can yet identify and discuss ethnicities and difference.

"That door there," I told her, pointing to the exterior door through which they'd entered the Chick-fil-A.

"No, MOM!" she borrowed her exasperation from her future 16 year old self. "I don't mean how did they get into this restaurant, I mean what Guatemala is he from?"

First of all, hilarious way for her to understand countries and language. But secondly, I wasn't sure how to answer. I didn't know where he was from, and that question makes me uncomfortable.

It's moments like these (when you're not sure what to do) for which the WWJD bracelet was created. So, like Jesus, I answered a question with a question: "Was he speaking a language that wasn't English?"

"Yes, mom," she relaxed. Her facial expression saying finally, old woman, you get what I'm talking about. "He was speaking Spanish."

I looked at Billy. He's my go-to guide for who is speaking Spanish or not. He shrugged. "Could be." Then I think we mumbled some stuff about not knowing where he was from and did we want to trade in our kid's meal toy for an ice cream...

She Wants to Understand

My daughter is trying to grasp her world. She's got enough of a multicultural framework to know that some people speak Spanish and some people English. She's also aware that other "Guatemalas" exist.

But, of course, she is still looking for clear categories. (Many adults are, too, but that's not as developmentally appropriate...) I want to help guide her in the world, but I also want her to maintain a lot of flex in her understanding of cultures and ethnicities. I want to affirm that Asian men can be speaking Spanish. And I want to leave his country of origin unknown since we don't know and it could be anywhere in the world, including right here.

In the midst of this conversation, I also had this feeling that we are sort of bumbling our way through this experience of raising a multicultural kid. It was one thing to read diverse books or dress her different clothes, but it's another to answer her questions and try to walk alongside her in a world where everyone has a unique story.

Creating a Flexible Lens

It's important to me that we have open, honest conversations about people and difference and sameness early on and frequently. Here are a few things I'm trying to help her create a flexible, inclusive understanding of those around her.

#1 Never shaming talks about race

It took everything in my being not to shush her when she pointed at a Papa John's employee and announced, "He's brown!" But I don't want her to internalize a feeling that race conversations are shameful or to be avoided at all costs.

#2 Asking questions

As adults, we can sometimes assume our kids are talking about race or ethnicity when they're really not. I try to be careful to jump to conclusions and assume first that questions are without the societal baggage that the rest of us are carrying.

#3 Answering with honesty

Gabriella has been very confused why I can't fix her hair like some of her classmates. I finally said, "Kayla's hair is different than yours." For me, it was helpful to focus on the actual reason I can't style her hair like her friend's than to start creating categories for ethnicity, hair type, and cultural styles.

#4 Diversity and more diversity

Breadth of relationships creates that flexibility in expectations. I want Gabriella to know Latinos in every skin hue to help ward off some of the insensitivities her papa has experienced when people want to match one skin tone to Spanish. I want her to know people of different backgrounds, born in different places to different parents, so that her flexibility in racial categories develops naturally.

How do you speak with your kids about race without perpetuating stereotypes? How do you help them develop a flexible framework for the world around them? 

Side note: I feel like I should start a series "People I Encounter at Chick-Fil-A." First, I was picking up immigrants there, and now new guests were leading our family into awkward, multicultural conversations.

I promise not to spam you. (I'm not even sure I know how to!)
A Life with Subtitles. All rights reserved. © Maira Gall.