Passing On Our Beautiful Cultural Heritage

Culture and history are extremely important to my husband and I. Because we are raising our children hundreds of miles from where we grew up, it is really important to us that we share stories of our heritage with them. So, in honor of Black History Month, when Walmart asked me to share how we preserve the beauty of our heritage, I was more than happy to share.

Both my husband and I are originally from St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands, a place where only one of our children has ever visited — and that happened when he was just 6 months old. And while my husband has visited in recent years, it has been a whopping 13 years since I’ve been home. I’m almost ashamed to say that.

Still, we do everything we can to teach them about where we came from, because growing up in the Caribbean offers a vastly different cultural experience from growing up in the States. We like to share as many snippets of that experience with them as we can:

The Food

Nothing is a bigger reminder of growing up in the islands that the smells and tastes of Caribbean food. My husband can throw down in the kitchen, and I’m not so bad myself, and our most popular meals, by far, are Caribbean dishes. From stew chicken to macaroni and cheese pie, fish and fungi to johnny cakes and plantain, they love when we give them a history lesson on a plate.

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My stepson also fancies himself a cook, and he has been experimenting with some Caribbean-influenced dishes of his own. It’s fascinating to watch him finding his way around dishes that remind my husband and I of home, and my daughter is developing an interest in cooking them as well. We love the fact that they’ll then be able to pass these recipes on to their own children one day.

The Music

If you take a look through our music collection, you’ll note that easily 50% of it consists of reggae, calypso and soca. Let’s just say our tastes run far deeper than just the Bob Marley fare you might hear on the radio. While we’re still working on my stepson, my daughter is deeply in love with Caribbean music and can be found listening to it on her own, or singing along with pretty much any song we play. The fact that my husband is a reggae artist and songwriter pushes that love even further, giving the kids a real connection to the music that their dad makes.

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But it wasn’t enough for us just to listen to the music. Both my husband and I played steel pan in our youth, and a few years ago, my dad sent us a tenor steel pan. While we play a variety of musical genres on the pan, from reggae to classical and R&B, I have taken great pleasure in teaching my daughter the history of an instrument that is firmly Caribbean in origin.

The Culture

There are some things about our heritage that are just hard to share short of taking the entire family on a trip back to St. Thomas (which we really need to do as soon as possible). The next best thing for us has been exposing our children to as many Virgin Islands and Caribbean events as we can.

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The most notable of those is the yearly Caribbean carnival in Atlanta. There’s nothing quite like being around thousands of other people who share parts of your culture. The symphony of accents from various islands is a beautiful sound, you can feel the music in the deepest parts of your soul, the food is like none other, and the parade and costumes expose them to an experience that is uniquely Caribbean. So while it isn’t exactly like carnival back home, is it is pretty good approximation, and we look forward to celebrating as a family each year.

Our Dual Heritage

In addition to our Caribbean heritage, we are also African American, and that comes with its own set of cultural identifiers and conversations. My husband and I always challenge the kids to learn more and do more. The sad truth is that they will learn precious little about black history in school, and generally only in February, if then. There are so many rich stories that they’ll never hear in a class lesson, and it is our responsibility to teach them.

We regularly watch movies, read books and even share news stories not just about historical figures and events, but about current events that speak to race and race relations, both positive and notsomuch. We challenge them to research the people and subjects that they find interesting, and to write about what they’ve learned.

Our Beauty

But by far one of the most positive ways my daughters and I celebrate our heritage is with our natural hair.

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For the longest time, the singular standard of beauty for black women was to have straight hair, generally achieved with the use of toxic chemical relaxers. I made the personal decision to forgo that standard and embrace my naturally curly hair. As a result, my older daughter has learned to do the same, and we will work to consciously pass that love of our inherent beauty to the baby.

This beauty is written on our brown skin, and though we don’t see reflections of that in popular culture often enough, it is my husband’s and my job as parents to make sure that not just our daughters, but our sons, see it and cherish it.

Overall, the goal in all these things is not just for our kids to know from whence they came, but to be proud of it. We don’t have the luxury of doing this only during Black History Month, so we do it all year long.

How do you help your family preserve your cultural heritage, regardless of what that is? You can read more from Walmart about celebrating African American beauty. And if you’d like to join in, you can share photos of your beautiful heritage — your mom, your grandmother, yourself and your kids — on instagram with the hashtags #MyBeautifulHeritage and #WalmartBeauty. And you can see the photos others have shared. (aff)

DISCLOSURE: As a participant in the Walmart Moms Program, I’ve received product samples and compensation for my time and efforts in creating this post. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

By jennae

Hi! I'm Jennae Petersen and I'm the eco diva who had the bright idea to share my journey toward green living with the blogosphere. Some of you may know me as the founder of Green Your Decor, my blog about eco-friendly home decor, as a Walmart Mom, from Twitter or from my organic cotton t-shirt line Differently Clothing. Stick around for a while!

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