Bill Belew has raised 2 bi-cultural kids, now 34 and 30. And he and his wife are now parenting a 3rd, Mia, who is 8.
As a child, when I saw the movie East is East I couldn’t fully understand very well why George, the Pakistani immigrant father in England couldn’t understand his British-born children. The family looked hopelessly dysfunctional. The children were lost somewhere between the modern world and traditional roots, unsure of their identities and where they belong to. Little did I know that one day I would be dealing with language and cultural issues with the arrival of my nephew.
Born in the U.S., my nephew is a pint-sized kid with open liveliness for new ideas and a curious mind. He has endless questions and very opinionated. Both his parents are born and brought up in India before they moved to the U.S. fifteen years ago for academic perusal Down the years, they planned to settle in Chicago and since then they call the Windy City ‘home city’. Even though they both speak in Hindi at home, my nephew chose to speak with them in English, ALWAYS, even as a kid!
Their conversation is always sprinkled with several Hindi words but I seldom see him using any of those words. Though I knew he understood the language too well I couldn’t figure out why he hesitated. He refused to reply back in Hindi, if spoken to. However, things changed after his third trip to India. There, amongst his cousins, he was confidently speaking in Hindi, replied to all questions in Hindi (to my surprise as well as my mother’s, who had heard about this issue and made an effort to speak just in English).
Tucking him in the bed few nights later, I asked him why he never spoke to me or his parents in Hindi. In soft voice, he said, “Masi, I think I find it lot cooler to speak the language when everyone expect me to speak in English.” I couldn’t believe my ears but things got lot more interesting when before coming back to the U.S., he took his grandparents to buy him Bollywood movies and music.
Today, he is a tween who speaks four languages – English, Hindi, Spanish & little bit of French. He switches from one to another language in a matter of seconds. His telephonic conversation with my mother is something I look forward to because just listening to him (taking the effort to sound very authentic and correct) brings a smile to my face. I’ve also realized raising a bilingual child means being patient with them. Each child is different and unique. Some pick up the native language of their parents quickly while others get confused or feel shy speaking a language they don’t get much exposure to at home, or outside home. Some children might not be willing to try it while others may be very proud of the fact they are multilingual or bilingual. Whatever the case may be, the parents should never force the child to speak the language he or she are not comfortable conversing in. It’s matter of time and level of comfort that can help them speak the language.
Talk to Bill and others about their experiences raising bi-cultural Japanese-American kids.