How to teach kids to embrace their heritage

May is Asian-Pacific Heritage Month this year, and one thing my sister and I talk about constantly is finding ways to teach our children about their heritage. We grew up in the Philippines, so it was very easy to know the Filipino culture—we were constantly surrounded by it. As I raise my family here in the United States, it is a little more challenging and requires more effort. It is important to me though that my children embrace their Filipino heritage as this helps them form an identity—who we are, where we come from, and what we believe in. These are some of the ways in which we have encouraged our kids to learn about, and be proud of, being Filipino.

Teaching with Food

Food is the easiest part of the culture to share, especially since I already cook some traditional Filipino dishes such as adobo (meat cooked in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic) and sinigang (a soup with meat and vegetables characterized by its sour tamarind taste).  It also helps that both LA and Houston have a large Filipino population and there are many restaurants to choose from. Lumpia, or fried spring rolls, is always a hit when we bring a tray to a potluck party and it is an easy way to introduce others to our culture.

Lumpia is welcome at any gathering, big or small

Educating with Books

Surprisingly, the library had quite a number of children’s books relating to the Philippines. There were illustrated books that explored history, geography, and traditional celebrations and festivals. What the children found the most interesting was listening to the folk stories and myths, many of which I had heard when I was a child. The ancient creation story of how Malakas (Strong One) and Maganda (Beautiful One) emerged from a single piece of giant bamboo is an example of one.

Easy reading for littles
Easy reading for littles

Learning the Language

There is no better time to teach a new language than when kids are young.  Their minds are so ready to absorb information and they remember things so easily. The kids often ask me to translate words for them, asking questions like “What is the Filipino word for ‘love’?” or “How do you say ‘goodbye’ in Filipino?” Teaching words through songs is also an easy way to reinforce a new language.  The traditional folk song Bahay Kubo (Nipa Hut) tells of a small hut and the vegetables being grown in its surroundings, a fun way to learn about vegetables and their names.

Vegetables mentioned in the popular folk song, Bahay Kubo
Gaby writing a letter to me
A letter from my daughter

Incorporating Traditions

My husband and I, when we moved to Houston, decided to make a concerted effort to be actively involved in a Filipino group. We were very happy to have found a Filipino non-profit organization that works to promote the culture, and participates in philanthropic efforts that benefit both local and international communities. An advantage of the both of us being involved is that the kids are brought to the different events as well. They have been “dragged” to dance practices and workshops, helped to set up in festivals, and even participated in fundraising events. Not only are they exposed to a community of Filipinos, hear the language being spoken, they also observe the values and traditions that are important to us as a culture.

Left: Sungka, a traditional game. Right: The kids learning tinikling, a folk dance using bamboo poles
Left: Sungka, a traditional game. Right: The kids learning tinikling, a folk dance using bamboo poles

While our kids will no doubt grow up as Americans, embracing their Filipino heritage can only make their lives richer. Building relationships and a community where they can surround themselves with our culture makes it easy and fun to include it in their everyday lives.

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