One evening, while I was combing my daughter’s before bed, she started singing a song in Tagalog. I was like, “What!”
First, I should explain that my daughter is half Puerto Rican courtesy of her dad (me) and half Filipino courtesy of my wife.
Now my original thought was that her grandparents, my in-laws, sang this to her to obviously piss me off. They know that I want her to master English before we start her on Spanish and Tagalog. Being that she’s only three and a half, she’s still working on simply speaking what, to her, are complex sentences. Suffice it to say I was pissed off.
My wife was working the overnight shift at the hospital, and I didn’t want to call my in-laws because, let’s be honest, I can barely understand them when they speak half the time. Added to the fact that I am what you would call a stereotypically hot-tempered Latino, I get easily frustrated with repeating myself over and over to them.
“Eh, Dan I no understand. Please say over.” Argh!
So with no one to complain to, I did what comes second nature to me: After I put her to bed. I grabbed good old Bacardi and some Diet Coke (yeah, I said it: diet. Getting older, man) and had a drink or two and thought over the situation.
My parents are both Puerto Rican, yet it wasn’t till I was in my early twenties that I started to understand my history. My parents, for better or worst, wanted me to be Americanized more than anything. My father came to New York when he was 10, and being that young, not knowing English and living in the Lower East Side at the time was a culture shock to him. Being called names and disrespected by the other races as he got older, he made damn sure I was educated and that English would be my first language.
Nowadays he’s retired and lives in Connecticut writing papers and books on conspiracies.
I didn’t even start learning Spanish till I was about 13, thanks to my good friend Maurico who was Colombian and couldn’t believe I couldn’t speak Spanish fluently.
As for my mom, well, she was one of those super light Puerto Rican women, so she hung out with a lot of Caucasians. That was her crowd. Now she’s a grandmother with dementia, which is a problem into itself.
My wife, on the other hand, her parents made sure she went to college and got a degree while keeping all of her peoples’ traditions. They didn’t want her to be a “twinkie” (I still laugh at them saying that to her in their thick Tagalog accents).
Which brings me to my daughter. Of course I want her to be fully immersed in both of her cultures, but how do you do that? Will she lean more towards one than the other? When do you start teaching her? Do you do it together as family, or is it one week Filipino and the next Puerto Rican? Does she eat arroz con gandules with some pernil for dinner on Monday night and lumpia with pancit on Tuesday?
Do we play Marc Anthony for one hour and then… Well, I guess that’s it, because as far as I know, besides that singer in Journey, them Filipinos don’t really have anyone.
I guess what I’m saying is that no one has really put instructions out there on how to raise a biracial child. Yeah, I’m sure I could read Raising Biracial Children or Does Anybody Else Look Like Me?, but I always looked at such books as someone’s thesis paper. How can someone else tell me how to raise my biracial child?
I want the best for my little girl. We nurture her paintings and drawings. We take time out to answer her questions in detail and any follow up ones she asks. We do our best which I think every parent tries to do for their child.
I just felt hurt and angered because it seemed to me that she was being pushed to the Filipino side and her other culture isn’t being addressed. But while I sat and drank, it dawned on me: Who gives a f—? She’s only three. I have all the time in the world to teach her about her Latin heritage.
As it happens, I already have a library with literature and history collected over the years. I can take any book from Stories from Puerto Rico by Adela Martinez- Santiago, with a few stored by her old man as well, all the way to Los Macheteros by Ronald Fernandez and maybe for some papers she’ll need to write when she gets into college I can let her read War Against All Puerto Ricans by Nelson Denis.
All the while I can just talk to her about her family on my side—her crazy abuelo and his UFO theories, or the way her bisabuelo would get up at the crack of dawn and collect eggs from the backyard chicken coop and wake us up with the smell of breakfast. (Or was it the rooster waking us up at some God awful hour?)
I can tell her about her bisabuela who was tough as nails and taught me more discipline than anybody else has since. I can tell her about her crazy tíos (May God bless the dead), who always had a wild story to tell me and went on adventures—which one of them they never made it back from. I can tell her these things and many more.
But first, I need to find out who taught her that song!