It’s not just Dia de Portugal today; it’s also Portuguese National Heritage Month here in California. While I’ve written about Dia de Portugal and about being Portuguese in general, this year, I want to switch things up.
Usually, I write about the past. Today, I want to think about the future. I’m planning a wedding. I’m going to have a family. Someday, I am going to have half-Portuguese children. What will they inherit from me?
A hyphenated existence
I’ve always been proud of being a hyphenated American. I’m Portuguese. It’s my first language and it’s where my parents are from. I’m American. I was born here, I was raised here. It’s home. I’ve had the luxury of being two things brought together by a hyphen. I feel like something greater than the sum of my parts.
My children, on the other hand, will be two parts. Jim is American. No matter what a DNA test might say about his ancestry, he’s culturally a product of this country. His middle name comes from an ancestor who fought for the Union in the Civil War. He didn’t learn another language until most American kids are forced to in high school.
Something I’ve come to accept with some level of resignation is that my children will not be as culturally Portuguese as I am. Even now, I have to remind myself to speak Portuguese to my nieces while their brains are still sponges hungry for language. Their parents are as Portuguese-American as I am, but their upbringing is far more American than their parents’.
But this is what assimilation is, right? The longer we’re here, the more American we become. In some ways, I consider my parents more American than me. They chose to slap -American on the end of their Portuguese. They’re American on purpose. I was just born here.
An intentional inheritance
As the oldest child, I was a definitely a big part of the trial (and boy, was I a trial) and error of learning how to raise kids who are first-generation Americans. Here I am crowing about how proud I am to be Portuguese when I am way more (culturally) American than my parents are.
The thing I’ve been worried about for so long is what parts of being Portuguese my children will lose. No wonder most of this post has been depressing. Lately, I’ve been working on turning that thinking around. I started asking myself a question:
What can I do to make sure my kids are as Portuguese as they want to be?
Because if I learned anything from being that firstborn trial, it’s that forcing a kid to be something is the worst way to get the results you want.
Teaching Portuguese classes has been important to me because I loved Portuguese school. I wouldn’t have studied Portuguese in college if I hadn’t been that obnoxiously “Pick me, I know!” student with her hand in the air at Portuguese school when I was a kid. I may have learned to speak Portuguese from my parents, but my love of reading, writing, and history came from years of going to Portuguese class on Monday and Wednesday nights… and being good at it.
My siblings, on the other hand, were not me. My brother’s teacher didn’t know how to deal with his lisp and didn’t inspire the love of the language that I was lucky to have because I was good at it. My sister clashed with my favorite teacher when she wasn’t a teacher’s pet like I was.
My siblings are not less Portuguese than me because of this. They are no less proud of their heritage than I am, even if I’m the one that happened to pursue a more academic route. Their Portuguese-ness manifests in ways that I don’t experience. My brother was an advisor for the Portuguese club at the high school he used to work at. My sister wants her children to be able to speak Portuguese with their grandparents.
All I can do is share what I love about my heritage. I’ve gone on and on about the language here, because of me, that’s what I’m most attached to. Speaking it, studying it, teaching it, picking apart poems until I can see what makes them tick. Those are the moments when I feel the most Portuguese.
But maybe my kids will want to cook and eat Portuguese food. Maybe they’ll be history buffs and I’ll have to explain that exploring is cool but colonialism is bad, mmkay?. Or maybe they’ll just want to learn about how their grandparents grew up and what their ancestors lives were like. Whatever interests my kids develop as they grow up, I’ll figure out a way to tie it to their Portuguese inheritance.
I’m not going to force my kids to be Portuguese: I’m going to do all I can to make them want it.