Dear Dr. Debbie,
We would like our children to appreciate cultural diversity but are not sure where to begin.
My husband and I grew up in a community that had one skin color and only 2 churches – not all that different from each other. Here in our new home we know that our children, ages 5, 7, and 9, have classmates who have different religions, different skin colors, and may speak different languages at home. Where do we start?
Salmagundi, Gumbo, or Succotash
Cultural differences can be bridged with one-on-one relationships and through community events.
A good way for you to start would be to volunteer at your children’s school so you can get to know individual classmates. Volunteering is also a good way to meet other parents which will be a necessary step for a play date to happen. Teachers may have class contact lists which support children getting together outside of school; if not, suggest it. Talk with your children at home to start identifying friends to invite over, one at a time. It’s nice if potential friends live close by, but nowadays you can expect play dates to involve parents and cars. Where there may be a language barrier, ask if the school can help with communication between moms or make use of online translation sites. Typically the children of immigrants learn English quickly and serve as translators for their parents.
Concerning religious differences, you should learn a few things about beliefs and customs to avoid embarrassing blunders. For example, a child whose family is Jewish or Muslim may not be allowed to eat pork. A child whose family adheres to Jehovah’s Witness practices may not be able to attend a birthday party. A Muslim family wouldn’t appreciate any celebration during the month of Ramadan, particularly if food is served. Adults and older children refrain from eating from sunrise to sunset throughout the month-long observance of self-reflection. Note that Ramadan changes dates, coming about a month earlier each year. It will be from April 23 to May 23 in 2020. Likewise the Jewish calendar fluctuates, with holidays varying dates by as much as a month. This year Hanukah starts on the evening of December 22 and lasts through December 30. Time is spent with family, although friends and their families are often included in fun activities. Passover, during which observant Jews don’t eat bread nor most grain products unless they are “Kosher for Passover” will fall from the evening of April 8 through April 16, 2020.
There are customs related to clothing for some religions. For example, if someone in a Greek Orthodox family dies, the bereaved wear black clothing for 40 days. A widow or widower will dress in black for a year, or two years. Modest clothing is expected of observant Muslim and Orthodox Jewish women – no bare arms nor legs. Many Asian cultures observe the practice of removing shoes when entering a home. Head coverings also have a place in cultural diversity, often as an expression of religious belief.
To learn more about a particular religion use this quick reference , but just know that some families are more observant and others less so. As you and your children build your new friendships there will be plenty of occasions to gain information in one-on-one conversations. In a couple of years your children may be invited to a Confirmation, a Bar Mitzvah or a Bat Mitzvah, a Quinceañera or even a baptism or a wedding of a friend’s close family member. These will be festive occasions of cultural immersion. All in all most religions teach the importance of family, community, and kindness.
Enjoy learning about other cultures at events that welcome the curious as well as the cultural group’s own members. We are in the midst of Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15 – October 15) with events for the whole family at branches of Anne Arundel County Public Library and other locations. The library is also a good place to check out materials to help you learn foreign languages, find recipes from different cultures, and enjoy folk tales and music from around the world.
The Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival is coming up to honor the cultural legacy of Alex Haley’s ancestor (memorialized in Roots, an American Family Saga). Everyone is welcome to share in the rich legacy of Kunta Kinte’s childhood homeland in a re-created market place and performance space. In addition to live entertainment, including drumming and dancing from west Africa, there is a children’s area facilitated by Chesapeake Children’s Museum and the Sankofa Children’s Museum of African Culture. The free festival is Saturday, September 28 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Annapolis City Dock.
Chesapeake Children’s Museum has activities around the year for cross-cultural appreciation. CCM will facilitate crafts from Latin America for the Day of the Dead celebration in the design district of Annapolis (off of Forest Drive and Chincopin Round Road) on November 2. Native American Heritage Month will be celebrated at CCM in November with folk tales, games, and crafts. The museum also hosts a hands-on program about skin color, for ages 6 to 12, in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on his birthday each January.
But wait, there’s more! The Annapolis Greek Festival is held at Saints Helen and Constantine Greek Orthodox Church – on Riva Road near Annapolis High School, the first weekend of June. The moussaka, spanakopita, and baklava give festival-goers a true taste of cross-cultural appreciation!
Some schools take advantage of their culturally diverse families to create community events of their own. These usually involve music, food, crafts, traditional clothing, and other activities in which the students and their families can share their cultural heritage and learn about each other’s. See if this is already in the works at your children’s school, and if not, offer to help make it happen!
As African American author Jacqueline Woodson says, “Diversity is about all of us, and about us having to figure out how to walk through this world together.”
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.