Friday, November 03, 2006

Heritage v. Culture

No, this is not a lawsuit that one of is working on right now.

By now, you probably know that we have been required to attend parenting classes and meetings with a social worker. Not surprisingly, MUCH attention and dialogue has been focused on the point that we are starting a multi-racial family. There has also been a great deal of attention paid to the terms "heritage" and "culture". I know I have written of this a bit in the past, but it is the interrelation between the concepts that has caused me to revisit this topic now.

In the last meeting with the social worker we discussed in detail how much my Scottish heritage was made a part of my life growing up. I mean, I had a kilt at six folks. Several years in pipe bands, trips to Scotland, and an appearance in the World Pipe Band Championships later, there is no doubt that my parents instilled in my a strong appreciation of this heritage.

Heritage is defined by one dictionary as "something possessed as a result of one's natural situation or birth." Based upon this definition, my son will not possess my heritage or vice versa. Likewise, he will not possess my wife's Italian or Estonian heritages. This is not a bad thing. In fact, the social worker thinks my experiences likely show that we will find it important to teach ourselves and, in turn, our son about his Vietnamese heritage. Indeed. This is where culture comes in.

Culture can be defined as many things, including a way to make some nasty cheese, but I am thinking of it as follows. Culture is sometimes defined as "characteristic features of everyday existence (as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time." So, a culture can be whatever a group of people share in in their everyday lives.

I have had a lot of fun lately thinking about what our family culture will be like. Now, despite the above, the first things that come to this prospective dad's mind are baseball, football and hockey games. He might like to fish with me, he might not. He will have his favorite movies and hobbies just like any other American kid. That is mission number 1. Raising a happy American kid who will have the faculties to take on the world.

However, another part of our family culture will be sharing knowledge of the variety of heritages that each family member brings to our family. We have already begun to learn about Vietnam. He will taste pretzels made from his Italian great grandmother's recipe, learn Estonian words, and hit some highland games to catch some pipe band music. We will celebrate Tet and are already eating Pho (traditional Vietnamese soup). Our family culture will include sharing these diverse heritages with each other. It is part of what will make our family unique and special.


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