Friday, June 14, 2013

Cultural Diversity

Rainbow came over yesterday for our annual "surprise visit". (Hardly a surprise. She told me a week ago that she had to do one this month and she called about 5 minutes before arriving to find out if I was home.) While here though, she went ahead and updated the ISP (Individual Service Plan) documents for both Dude and Dolly.

Upon arrival into Care, and then again every six months, our licensing agency is required to go over ALL the specifics of caring for the children. The document starts out with "Reason for Placement" and goes from there. I have to answer questions about many different aspects including:
• Child strengths
• Any diagnosis: psychological needs, intellectual functioning
• Characteristics of the biological family: strengths/needs/goals
• Primary treatment issues: behavioral/emotional
• Education: strengths/needs/goals
• Developmental strengths/needs/goals
• Recreational/social schedules
• Cultural issues
• Overall supervision requirements
...and any more things

Because of some conversations I've read on FB lately, I've been intrigued with the whole idea of "culture" lately. This ISP meeting really brought it to light too.

The ISP paperwork says this:
Describe activities provided in the home and community to teach the child about his/her own culture, affirm personal worth, protect the child's dignity, and promote the development of a healthy racial and ethnic identity
Rainbow has never really made me answer "how" we do this in our family. She's always just taken things she knows to be true and filled the space in. For example, Dude is able to interact with peers of his own culture at Head Start and at church. He is able to eat foods that are familiar to him at home and at restaurants. She also said that he will have the opportunity to celebrate various holidays with the family.

Yesterday though, Rainbow specifically asked me how we handle "culture" in our family. I had to laugh. I told her that the children are living IN their culture -- I'm the fish out of water here! She pressed me a bit to say that I serve Mexican food. I added in that we attend a multi-cultural church. But really, what else is there to say?!

I got curious so after Rainbow left I downloaded the Cultural Diversity training that we are required to take every year for our license. Forgive this long post, but I think it has the potential to open up an interesting conversation. I'd love to hear what everyone else thinks about this.

The training slides started with the following:
Race does not equal culture.
Ethnicity does not equal culture.
Gender does not equal culture.

The next few slides covered areas where there can be conflict with culture in families (particularly when kids first come in to Care). Issues can arise in these areas:
physical and social environment
house rules
personal care

But then it went on to say:
Values are the fundamental building blocks of culture
Values are general principles or ideas, usually related to worth and conduct, that a culture holds to be important. The values of any given culture form the foundation for life within the culture.
What does this mean to Dude and Dolly?

They do not remember life with their bio family. At what point in time can it be said that they have adopted a new culture and that's OK?

Dude and Dolly came from a lifestyle of extreme poverty and neglect. Work was not important. Education was not valued. Family was not central. To me, this was their culture.

Is it important to continue to connect them to that?!

The State took the cherubs away from the Spanish language culture. They lied to me and told me the cherubs spoke English. It is not my fault they no longer speak Spanish. In the long run though, these cherubs now have an advantage over many others where we live. Most children learn English when they start preschool or kindergarten. It is because of this that most elementary schools struggle where we live! That language issue is huge! Dude and Dolly can communicate well in English and I believe it is ultimately to their advantage.

By now the cherubs have come to accept our food. (Prior to Care they had never eaten fruits or vegetables.) They are used to our physical and social environment. They know our house rules. The smells of our house are familiar to them. We dictate their personal care and they are OK with it.

So exactly what am I supposed to do to connect these children to their culture?!

Believe it or not, Rainbow asked me if I let them watch Dora the Explorer. I nearly choked on my water!! Watching a cartoon connects someone to their culture?!

Ultimately the annual training that we take says that we are supposed to:
• Recognize and respect the perceptions of children and youth in Care; and their families
• Support self-esteem and self-image
• Help children develop a positive racial identity

What do you do to support the culture of the children you care for? 
What does culture mean to you?
I'm very curious and I'd love an honest discussion about this!!!

Because to me, making tacos for dinner isn't exactly connecting my kids to anything!


POWmom01 said...
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Mandy said...

I know exactly what you are getting at. We are adopting our 3 foster boys who happen to be African American. There is one thing I play up big time. They are gorgeous. I love their skin, I love their hair, I love their noses and eyes. I do this with my Caucasian children as well, but I want my boys to love who God created them to be. We treat their hair and skin in a different way, but that is about as far as our adjustments have gone.
As far as the culture they will identify with... Does anyone else agree with me that multi-racial families are becoming so prevalent they are almost their own sub-culture? We spend a lot of time with multi-racial families. My kids identify with that. ALL of my kids. If my boys were from Africa we would celebrate Africa, but they are from one county away and we are not going to have a party for that county. Good post!

r. said...
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r. said...
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CherubMamma said...

I agree with that completely .r!! I WISH I could have done more to help them keep their Spanish. (I'm so screwed here. I took four years of French and I know sign language.)

It's why I so strongly asked at placement, "do they speak Spanish?" The State lied. The State said they did not. The State said they spoke English. Once in our home, I was so torn. They attached so quickly. I wasn't sure another move to a different foster home would be helpful. (And...all along...I was told they were leaving for family.) Once I found out that Dolly was over a year behind in her Spanish language skills (both receptive and expressive) I decided that staying with us and learning English wouldn't be all bad.

Truth is - if they go to Dallas, they will live with their Spanish speaking grandmother. They will become more bilingual than they already are. (Much of their Spanish is gone but they do understand more than they speak.)

If they stay with us, Lord willing, we won't be in the RGV forever. And no, it might not come super easy to them. But I'm sure their brains will do OK enough when it comes time to take their second language as soon as it's offered in school. Of course I would encourage them to take Spanish.

For the time being, they hear Spanish all around them all the time. Dude is in a bilingual school with Spanish being spoken exclusively two days a week. They do not "teach" in Spanish in the elementaries, but Dolly hears it a lot. We use some Spanish phrases at home. But it's rough. Their Spanish is pretty much gone.

schnitzelbank said...

I'm a language teacher (2 languages). Um, um, um... to POWmom, your opinion on AA culture is completely derogatory and flagrantly racist. I suggest you really reflect on what's deep-seated in your heart with those kids of yours, and work on that, because nothing good will come of their mom thinking the depth of their culture is drugs and prison. WOW. Introduce them to the values of Rosa Parks and MLK. Introduce that to yourself, while you're at it.
In that vein, let me say that culture reflects all sorts of things, not just values, not just language. But those are two very big components. When folks ask how you are honoring their culture, they are meaning the totality of their culture of origin. It starts by your family acknowledging and celebrating their roots-- it would be ideal to live in a community that has a foothold in their origin, but this is not always possible. But I think you do have a responsibility to be respectful of all cultures, and realize that all cultures have facets of value and worthy there are role models and leaders for any culture-- seek them out. Seek out the authors, the musicians, the poets, the artists. Fill your home equally with the sights, sounds, tastes. Respect and value it. Learn about it as a family- you might learn something new! Connect with native speakers, find the cultural center in your town, or if there is none, write to them and get resources. When it comes to learning language, native cartoons, kids' literature, nursery rhymes, folk songs, folk dances, finger-play games and native playground/card/board games can all be a great way to introduce. Label things in the house two ways, play heritage music in the car. Don't delay exposure to language lessons, a native speaker tutor, or sitter. Not only is it good for their hearts, but it's good for their brain development! ALL children benefit from language learning, so get your bio kids involved, too! While you're at it, learn alongside them. You'll keep your brain sharp, you'll benefit from new connections and ways of understanding, and think about how powerful it would be to share "I love you" in a different way. Or how powerful it would be for your older ESL child to be able to help YOU with their language of origin.
Whatever you do, DON'T deride your children's culture. Don't pretend it doesn't exist, or that just because they were young, that they don't know that their heritage exists. There is nothing but good things that can come from broadening our horizons.

For your info, an academic primer on "culture"

CherubMamma said...

@schnitzelbank -- thank you for your comment! That is exactly the kind of dialog I had hoped to start.

Now, you'll have to forgive me. I've tried to put these thoughts into words but I just don't know how. Bear with me. But I really want to keep the conversation going.

I am (obviously) not of Mexican heritage. I'm from the Midwest. I can rattle off many, many different countries that my ancestors are from. Never growing up did I do anything special for "culture". Did I miss out on something? Or is it just how some families handle things? For me, I was an American. THAT was my culture. A Midwestern American.

I can guarantee you that I will honor Dude and Dolly's family of origin! It is incredibly important to me that connections are maintained if the family members are safe and sober. But that is family. Is it culture too?

The things you mention to do as part of their "culture" -- does it really fit? No one went out of their way to have me watch cartoons in French or said anything special when bratwurst was served for dinner. Is it really important for me to learn special nursery rhymes, games, etc. in order to better connect with children that know nothing different from what they're currently getting? I personally believe ALL the things you mention are good to do if you're trying to cultivate DIVERSITY. But I'm not convinced that it's necessary for me to explore deep Mexican culture. To me, it's just as important to expose ALL my children to foods from India, games from Africa, sports from Asia, etc. These children are Americans. Their bio parents are Americans. Their grandparents and great grandparents are Americans. Do I have to explore Mexico so deeply? (Obviously if it becomes important to the cherubs later in life it would be important to me. I would never shelter them from their - distant - heritage.)

As I read over the link that you included I still have questions. So much of what the definitions in that say are about the values and behaviors of a group of people being their culture. If that is true, then I'm just as confused as when I started. Honestly, I think it's the same thing that POWmom01 is getting at. I don't believe she was trying to be racist in any way. Her comments were more along the lines of what her children's immediate bio family valued and the culture they are currently in. It's the same for Dude and Dolly. If they leave my care it is likely that Dude will become a gang member because his bio dad and his uncle (the one closest to Grandma N) both are. That is the culture of Dude's bio family. I'm pretty sure everyone can acknowledge that gangs have their own culture. For Dolly, many members of her bio family have had children at a very young age. Most of the girls haven't finished high school. That's not what I want for her either.

The culture of their bio family doesn't exactly include dancing girls in twirly dresses and tejano music. Of course I can teach Dude and Dolly about that. And I will!! (Right now they live in the middle of it all so they are exposed regularly.)

I guess I just prefer diversity. Teach all kids about all cultures. We adopted a blond haired blue eyed little boy and no one even thought to tell me the origin of his bio family other than his bio dad is from the East Coast. Learning to navigate trans-racial parenting is very interesting to me. I very much want to honor the children, their personal history and their family of origin.

Anonymous said...

I don't feel that what POWMom said was racist. Maybe it's because I live where that "street" culture is popular, and I know my black friends are trying their level best to keep their kids out of it. POWMom was speaking specifically about her son's bio-parents and where they're from, I think, not so much about Black culture in general.


My kids are black and white, and DH and I are just white. I've always learned and felt that culture has a lot to do with history, role models, and life experience. We have a lot of multicultural books. The shows DS watches tend to be more multicultural, though he's picking more of his own shows now, and that's not always the case. We read a lot of children's books about black history. We're big Obama fans in this house, and have two books about him specifically. We try to connect with our black friends often and ensure that DS especially has some positive black role models in his life.

Oh, and I can't stand Dora the Explorer! I don't know about her cousin Diego, but Dora is such a poor excuse for "educational" TV. There are much better shows on PBS, or I'm sure you have a Spanish PBS channel there (I know we do here in California). A friend of mine puts all of her son's DVDs on in Spanish.

schnitzelbank said...

You most indeed have a "culture," having grown up in the Midwest. Here's the thing- our own culture is transparent to us. We don't see the forest through the trees. The way we talk, walk, think, eat, pray, live, etc, is all "normal" and dull to us. But to a person in a very different culture, say someone from China, or Iran, it's like WHOA, your Midwest life is so different! Another analogy- talking with another person from the Midwest, you will understand their voice (their accent), and probably understand their message quite well. Even if you disagree with them, you understand where they're coming from. When you cross cultures, there are varying degrees of "differentness," depending on so many factors. The similarities in our language and structure. How "open" or "closed" we are to strangers. How we sense time. How we deal with authority and conflict. How wide our personal space and use of touch is. How we view gender roles. How we define family. This diversity is what changes our values. It's what we hear in an accent. It's what happens when you have no idea where that person is coming from, or what they are really trying to say.
Another example. If you have a meeting with America they might say "10:00," and you are expected to be there at 10 on the dot. But if it's a party, there might be some gap in arrival times. You should have been specifically invited, not just crash the party. In a West African culture, a meeting might start "tomorrow morning," but it's not said exactly when, but you better "know" that they mean after 11. Nothing happens before 11, so anytime between 11-1 is expected. It won't start "on time" as an American might expect. And if it's a party? Anyone comes at any time.
At an American work meeting, there is a hierarchy of where people sit, who greets whom, and how much you can disagree with others, depending on formality variables. But in Japan, those rules are even different. "No" will never be heard in a meeting, so you have to listen carefully and read between the lines. Someone may say "Yes," but they are actually telling you "No."
And a Japanese person will say, "I don't really have some specific culture, I'm just Japanese. This is how we do things." And a person from West Africa will say the same. And someone from Iowa will say the same...

And yes, exposing your children to lots of cultures and diversity is good. But it shouldn't he approached like a buffet. Depth is better than breadth. Breadth gets you exactly the buffet- tacos on Tuesday, spaghetti on Wednesday. Deeply exploring a culture is much more enriching and valuable.

schnitzelbank said...

I'm from Detroit and grew up in a biracial family. I get it. It was racist.

CherubMamma said...

I totally agree with the Midwest having its own culture! My first week here in The Valley was TOTAL culture shock! Where I live now I'm the minority. I've been to school events with over 500 people in attendance and my core family of five were the only white people there. I totally get the fact that there are culture differences across the US.

I've also lived in Utah - smack dab in the heart of Mormon culture. There too I was the minority. I just blended in better because it wasn't based on my skin color.

I've lived in different cultures. I understand people everywhere are different. I also agree with you that depth is better than breadth. That's why I really wanted to start this conversation. Because tacos on Tuesday and spaghetti on Wednesday isn't "culture" to me.

From what you just said above, it isn't Mexican culture that I need to make sure my kids connect to -- it's technically the culture of the RGV. And since they are living smack dab in the middle of that culture and are exposed to all its elements every day, we're good. It's what we will need to do when we leave (Lord willing Mr. Amazing will get promoted someday) that I want to think about.

I'm still just as confused as ever though. Some of the most dynamic parts of the RGV culture are not things that are valued as a whole in the US. I say this not only because of my own experiences, but also due to the numerous conversations I've had with both Valley natives and others that have moved here from other states. You truly cannot understand the Valley culture unless you've lived here!!

It seems I can connect these kids to a Mexican culture they've never known or been a part of, or I can show them a higher standard of values than what is prevalent in their bio family. Is it wrong to want them to be connected to a culture that values honestly, education, work and more?

Last Mom said...

Dora Explorer? LOL. We don't do much to connect Princess to her Hispanic culture. She lived in a van with her father and five siblings before entering foster care at age 4. There was abuse, neglect and extreme poverty. That was the culture she knew. She bounced around foster homes for five years - most were English only and she too lost her Spanish long ago. She doesn't consider herself any more Mexican than Miley Cyrus. Her school is very diverse. I made sure to buy dolls that have her skin tone. We eat tacos often and she is known to watch Dora when she's sick. So I guess we've got it covered as far as your Rainbow is concerned!

schnitzelbank said...

My immediate family culture wasn't much better. So I help my kids now identify with their ancestry...generations back, where was her family? Mine was still in another country, and that language and culture is what I expose my kids to.
What I'm trying to say- no one expects the dysfunctional individuals in your child's life to represent the entire culture. Just as Dora is shallowly inadequate, so is just looking to those 2 people that birthed your kid to be the totality of the culture. Dig deep!

Anonymous said...

I agree with Mandy's point that multi-racial families are often their own subculture. Many of our friends have adopted children of different races than their own and we joke that the kids probably think it's strange when a whole family is the same skin color. Often when I'm at a playdate the moms are all white and the kids are all various shades of brown. I'm thankful we live in a very diverse area where our kids interact with kids of different skin colors at the park, the store, at church and day care every day.

I've often been stumped with the "culture" thing for our daughter who is half-Salvadorian and half white (quarter Italian). We love Hispanic culture but I've never met anyone from El Salvador in our city. Her bio father is "unknown." If she had been raised by her bio mom she likely would have been raised in a majority black community. So, we have a half-hispanic, half-white daughter who is often mistaken for black that would have been raised in a black community but is now being raised by two white parents in a diverse community. Phew. Thank God she's secure and confident and out-going. I pray she never has doubts about where she belongs. I tend to think the opposite - she belongs everywhere. People of all colors are drawn to her and comment on how beautiful she is. I believe she will be a uniter.

I'd love for her to learn Spanish. We're big fans of Hispanic culture. We eat Mexican food all the time. We've been to Costa Rica before she was born, I've been to Mexico 3x and we plan to take her to Central America some day… and (GASP!) she went through a phase of LOVING Dora the Explorer. I think the only words she learned from it were "map" and "oh man!"

All that to say, I don't have any answers either but I have a feeling that because every person, community, family and culture are so different - there really is no simple answer. Thanks for being brave enough to open this discussion.

Anonymous said...

I get what you are saying, but I also think you may be missing part of the point. Culture is not one's true heritage or ethnicity. It is what you are referring to in regard to Midwest or Southern "culture". Or a "gang culture" or "suburban culture". Those things are learned and a by-product of how and where you were raised or live. A persons heritage or ethnicity are VERY different and have nothing to do with the way culture seems to be defined in some of the comments above.

I am an adoptive mom to 2 African American children (husband and I are caucasian) and am also an adoption social worker for foster kids. Please don't base what you will teach or not teach these kids on their immediate family! That is not their true heritage. Do whatever you can to expose them to their ethnic background, attend a parade, let them take dance that is reflective of their Mexican heritage, buy children's books with primarily hispanic or minority characters, and YES! watching Dora IS important! Let them watch Sofia the First too. They need to know that main characters can look and be "like" them!

Often "we" don't see it because so much around us is reflective of us. We don't realize that our kids need to know that not every important person in history was white.