Friday, December 31st, 2010

Real Intercultural Family in the U.S.: Russian, Spanish, Dutch and English


Welcome Trevor and Rocio!
Where are you from?
Trevor: Breda, Netherlands
Rocio: Mexico City, Mexico

Where do you currently live?

Queens, New York (Richmond Hill)
Which countries have you lived in since you’ve been together?
Just one—the U.S.
How did you meet?
Trevor: We met at a Valentine’s Day party in NYC where I met you (the editor—Stephanie). I don’t know whose party it was. Then, a few months later, I threw a party so I invited you to my party. You brought Rocio and we met. What we didn’t realize at the time is she knew my neighbor and had been in my apartment before at a party. We started dating soon after. So that’s how we met, thanks to you.
How old is your child and where was she born?
Arianne is 3.5. She was born in New York.
What passports does your child hold?
Trevor: Dutch and American. She will eventually get the Mexican—we were planning on getting it next time we’re there.
Which languages do you speak together?
Trevor: English
Which languages do you speak to your child?
Trevor: Rocio speaks Spanish and sometimes English with her. I speak Dutch and English with her. My mother lives with us now and she speaks Dutch to her. She’s in a Russian daycare and she speaks Russian in school. We live in a Russian Jewish community in NY.
Rocio: I speak Spanish and she answers back in English—largely English with words in Spanish. What has helped, I hate to say, is the Diego and Dora program because there are words in Spanish in it and she wants to know more in Spanish.
How does she do with her Spanish when you go to Mexico?
Rocio: When she’s with kids who are Spanish speakers, it takes a little time but she tries to communicate with them in Spanish. It’s like they get shy with adults but between kids they try harder.

What language does your child communicate in?
Trevor: English and Russian. She speaks back to me in English. I have a feeling it may take longer for her to speak back in the other languages. What was interesting is when Arianne was alone with some friends’ kids who spoke Dutch, she spoke it with the other little girl.

Do you have any concerns or comments about your child’s language acquisition?
Trevor: We had concerns about a year ago because she wasn’t talking only babbling. So we did a test at school to see what was going on. We realized during the test that she spoke only Russian. She was saying words and we thought she was babbling, but it was actually Russian. They also basically told us we just had to stick with one language for a little bit longer.

Rocio: We didn’t want her to be left behind so we decided to concentrate on English and then we’ll switch.

Rocio: Sometimes I’m concerned because if I’m very tired, I won’t speak English correctly and I’m afraid she will learn it wrong. Or if someone is speaking Spanish incorrectly, I am concerned she will learn it wrong. But I’m not concerned in general as I think she will be multilingual easily.
Rocio: We also try to make a trip once a year to Europe and Mexico so I hope she will be interested in learning it so that way she will be able to communicate in the two countries. She loves traveling, that’s for sure, so she’s really excited to go.
What religion is your family?
Trevor: Both Catholic. We don’t really practice religion so we haven’t really enforced anything yet. She can make her own choice at some point.
Rocio: She’s exposed to a variety of religions because in school they are mainly a lot of Jewish teachers and kids. Our neighbors are Catholic, we have been in churches, but we don’t practice anything. In school they do the Chanukkah party and celebrate different religious events.
What have been your major challenges as an intercultural family?
Trevor: I think it’s important for a kid that she has good ethics and a good understanding of culture. We actually have so little cultural differences. Our cultures are so similar with behavior, ethics and manners. I suppose one challenge is to be able to speak back to us in all the languages we speak.

We also want to make sure she understands her heritage. It’s not necessarily a challenge but we want to make sure she understands her family, who is in the Netherlands and who is in Mexico and she should be proud to be part Mexican, part Dutch and part American. We go through photos and show her uncles in Mexico and Holland. Every year we go back to our home countries. This is very important.
I think our biggest challenge is finding the right school for her. We want a good environment that has different cultures, is open-minded. One that respects cultural differences.

Rocio: I want her to be exposed to everything and respect everything. The lack of respect has brought everyone to the stage of fighting with everyone in the world.
One major difference is we (Mexicans) are not too concerned about time. Dutch culture and people are very concerned about time. If you say, we’re going to meet at 2, it means 2 but in Mexican culture 2 means 3. That for me was a big challenge. Dutch culture is very exact in terms of time.

One of the most shocking trips I have ever done is when an uncle came from Holland to Mexico. We went to Chiapas which is in the middle of the mountains and were eating next to indigenous people. They thought the town and everything was a disaster. They were shocked there were no rules or street lights on some of these back country roads. In Mexico, everything is kind of a surprise and you go with the flow. Dutch people are not like that at all. I have been able to adjust and it helps I was living in the U.S. for a long time.
What are some of your cultural differences?
Trevor: I’m sure we do have some but I’m not even sure which ones.
Rocio: We have more similarities than differences. I always thought Dutch people were very liberal and not so family-oriented. But Dutch people are very family-oriented and Trevor’s family is much more integrated than my family. People always assume I have the big family since I am Mexican, but on his side, he actually has the bigger family—his mom has 10 siblings on her side.
What have been your greatest joys as an intercultural family?
Trevor: The difference of foods, languages, I like the warmth of the Mexican culture—the way the people are warm and friendly. I think it’s an amazing culture.
Rocio: I’ve enjoyed the family-oriented part of it. They are very close and I really like that. When we go to Holland, they do a lot of family gatherings and it’s nice to see all the family together. I like that Arianne sees that and can see that her family is really big—to have the feeling she has a big family in Holland, Mexico and even in the US, all our friends have become the American family we don’t have here. I think that’s something good for the development of kids, that they have a big family they can count on.

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