Immigrants walk a tightrope between two cultures. That's especially true for parents.
- Masha Rumer emigrated from the Soviet Union as a teenager.
- This is an adapted excerpt from her new book "
Parentingwith an Accent."
The following is an adapted excerpt from "Parenting with an Accent: How Immigrants Honor Their Heritage, Navigate Setbacks, and Chart New Paths for Their Children."
Having lived in the United States most of my life, I've raised dozens of champagne and vodka toasts to America at every major family function, from New Year's Eve parties to birthdays. I've voted in every presidential election since becoming a citizen. I've baked Flag Cakes on the Fourth of July and for friends receiving their green cards.
This is where my children were born and where I've lived most of my life. This is home.
But no amount of patriotic cake can erase that occasional feeling of statelessness.
Don't get me wrong, there's plenty to love about being multicultural.
You've got a shapeshifter's flexibility and the richness of two or more traditions. You can swear in at least two languages, on top of the other perks of bilingualism, like the ability to relate to people from various walks of life, cognitive advantages, and access to
Yet the search for that corner of the world to call your own is sometimes a journey, particularly after becoming a parent.
Immigrant parents live in between
While still pregnant, I marvel at the gentle, almost philosophical way mothers address their toddlers in the park: "Do you want to leave now, Riley, or in five minutes?" I try to tell baby bouncers apart from swings on the bountiful must-have lists for the nursery. American childhood is different than the one I experienced back in the Soviet Union.
I'm also noticing that this state of in-betweenness is actually quite common among immigrants. Even for those who churn out long legal briefs in English and laugh at jokes on late-night comedy shows on American TV.
Take Amandine. After arriving in America from France as a new mom, Amandine found herself in a crossfire between cultures.
One stark difference was the child-rearing approach. Amandine's own mother was "a typical, very strict French mother," but Amandine wanted to be more lenient with her children, she tells me. "Maybe I wasn't strict enough, even though my kids say I was really, really strict. If they had known my mother!"
She was struck by how involved the American parents were, particularly when it came to education and volunteering. So Amandine, too, began to volunteer at her children's schools. After getting a full-time job, she'd still volunteer in the evenings. She had both kids join the American Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts — though not before trying the French scouting organization — and helped her daughter sell cookies.
Still, she doesn't quite feel like an American mother. "I didn't become as encouraging as I wanted," she reflects. She tells me she didn't attend all of the games of her son, an avid athlete who'd get up before dawn for hockey practice. Nor does she feel "one hundred percent French" either. "I find myself tormented by the fact that I could be an impostor," she confesses.
Fernanda, a biologist from Brazil, is concerned about losing the link to her heritage while also at times feeling like an outsider, especially when people try to guess where she's from.
"Oh, you look Mexican," some tell her. "Are you Puerto Rican?"
A former colleague would refer to her as "that Mexican girl over there."
These assumptions make her feel invisible.
"I was so offended because it was like my country doesn't exist. I think it's the way I look. I'll always have an accent. I feel completely Brazilian. It's where I'm from. I would like my culture not to be erased."
That fear of erasure was so strong that Fernanda hesitated to take her baby daughter to a sing-along at a local public library. She worried that English might edge out her child's Portuguese. The new rituals made her nostalgic. "I didn't learn these songs," she tells me. "I learned others."
From "Parenting with an Accent: How Immigrants Honor Their Heritage, Navigate Setbacks, and Chart New Paths for Their Children," by Masha Rumer, published by Beacon Press.
- Explained: TCS on your child's overseas education and mitigating strategies
- From Pixel 8 to Galaxy S23 FE – smartphones launching in October 2023
- World Cup 2023 final squads – Ind, Aus, Eng and all the other teams
- Eating your way to clear vision: 10 foods for healthy eyes
- 10 cafes in Bangalore offering the best of ambiance and cuisine