September 25, 2020

If you’re on social media, you may have noticed people are currently celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month (observed September 15th – October 15th). Honoring Hispanic heritage is so important, especially in California where 48% of children are considered to be of Latin or Hispanic descent. It can be challenging to sort out your identity as a young person, and being a part of an ethnic group that is often underrepresented can make things even more complicated. For foster kids in particular, connecting to their heritage and culture presents it’s own unique hurdles. 

At Koinonia, we emphasize how imperative it is for resource parents (aka foster and adoptive parents) to be culturally competent. Being intentional about giving foster and adoptive children opportunities to incorporate their heritage into everyday life can have an incredibly positive impact on their development. In fact, it’s not just beneficial for foster kids; encouraging the exploration of any child’s cultural background helps them to build a strong sense of cultural self! But what does that look like, in a more practical sense? Here are some helpful tips for honoring your child’s heritage:

Celebrate Holidays & Traditions

There are a vast amount of holidays and traditions to celebrate within the Spanish-speaking world. Some of the most popular holidays include La Semana Santa (Holy Week), the week leading up to Easter; Dia de Muertos (Day of the Dead), which is celebrated on November 2nd; and Las Posadas (literally, “the Inns”), a Christmas celebration that takes place between December 16th and December 24th. Observing holidays and traditions together not only helps the next generation feel connected to their roots, but it also bonds a family together. Don’t feel like you need to observe every single tradition in Hispanic culture, but find out what’s important to your kids, and go from there.

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Incorporate Language

In this day and age, there are almost endless resources available for learning languages. Before you get overwhelmed by all the apps and Rosetta Stone offers, remember it doesn’t need to be a strictly educational activity – learning a language can be accomplished in a casual, fun context! Pick a vocabulary word of the week and try to use that word as much as possible. Play a game that incorporates Spanish. Find a fun language app that your child enjoys. The most important thing is exposing your child to the language of their culture; or, if they are already fluent, making an effort to learn more and understand that part of their world.

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Make Culturally Authentic Foods

A huge part of every culture is the food! You can start with a recipe or simply go shopping at a local international market to find inspiration and truly authentic ingredients. Ask your child if there’s a particular dish they would like to help you make and take this opportunity to spend quality time with them. Hispanic culture is highly relational and much of it centers around food; making tamales is often an all-day process that involves the entire familia.

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Be Intentional With Movies, TV Shows & Books 

Media is a powerful tool to help youth learn more about the culture and history of their people. When parents are intentional about picking out movies, TV shows, and books that represent their child’s ethnic group in some way, shape, or form, it helps the young person strengthen their identity and feel connected to something bigger than themselves. Just remember to pick programs that are age-appropriate and be sensitive to your individual child’s ability to process complex issues like gentrification or racism.

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Be Attentive

Many times our kids will tell us what they need. In one of our recent articles, there is a great example of this: a young boy was asking for an ethnic-looking doll, and after receiving it benefited greatly from seeing himself represented in the toy he plays with.  When your child exhibits a need, consider the cultural implications of what they’re asking for (whether it’s a direct or indirect request).

National Hispanic Heritage Month is a wonderful opportunity for parents and children to explore what it means to be Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Salvadorian, etc. Regardless of where our ancestors came from, it’s always fun to learn about other cultures and celebrate what makes America so colorful and diverse. And for foster and adoptive children, connecting to their heritage could be the thing they have been longing for and weren’t quite sure how to seek out on their own.