Monday, January 31st, 2011

Real Intercultural Family in the U.S.: Portuguese, Romanian and English


Welcome Ingrid and Leo!


Where are you from?
Leo: Brazil


Ingrid: Romania


Where do you currently live?
Berkeley, CA. (The each hold a PhD from the University of Berkeley).


How did you meet?
Leo: At a birthday party of a friend in common.


Ingrid: It’s a much longer story than that. He was visiting from Brazil.


Leo: I was escaping carnival. I was visiting some friends and went to this birthday party.


Ingrid: I got lost going to the party. I wasn’t going to go but a friend came to get me. So we met at the party. Then the next weekend we met again at another party. At the second party we talked and connected more. But the day after, he had to go back to Brazil.


Leo: We played “pente” (an online board game) with chat next to it. We played one game in Romanian and the next in Portuguese.


Ingrid: Then I invited him to my sister’s wedding in Romania.


Leo: No, you came to Brazil first.


Ingrid: That’s right. I had a trip planned to go to Miami with a girlfriend.


Leo: And I convinced her to come to Brazil instead. So she came and stayed a week.


Ingrid: That’s when I invited him to go to Romania since I know he likes to travel. I expected him to say no but he didn’t.


How old are your children and where were they born?
Milla just turned 4 and Aillou is 18 months. They were both born in Berkeley.


What passports do you hold?
Leo: Brazilian, U.S.
Ingrid: Romanian, U.S.


And the kids?
Milla has all three and Aillou has the Brazilian and U.S. but not the Romanian yet.


What language do you speak together?


In what languages do you speak to the kids?
Leo: I speak to the kids in Portuguese with a little bit of English.


Ingrid: I speak to the kids in Romanian with a little bit of English, mostly when I forget or when I’m upset.

What languages do the kids speak?
Ingrid: Milla speaks mainly in English but she understands both Portuguese and Romanian. Aillou doesn’t speak yet.


What religion are you?
Ingrid: I wasn’t raised religious but my Mom is orthodox Christian. The kids can practice anything they want. I don’t want them to hate other people because they are something else. At the end of the day, it’s all the same thing- one calls it Muslim, Jewish, etc.


Leo: I’m Jewish. Part of what I want to pass on to the kids is the humanist values Judaism has. One of the things I like is the idea that you don’t attach yourself to symbols because the symbols don’t matter. Many pieces of the religion deal with respecting people above material things. I really don’t want to pass on some of the crazy, esoteric things Judaism has like on the holidays you suffer like your ancestors suffered.


Leo: Some of the older traditions in Judaism are interesting but they don’t make sense anymore—like the whole idea of not eating pork was because you could get sick from it so they made up some crazy myth around it. Nowadays, that stuff doesn’t make sense because if you cook the pork, it’s fine. There’s things like that you’re not supposed to eat the chicken and egg at the same time because of some religious craziness but it’s really that you can’t eat both at the same time because you’re going to end up with no more eggs cause you killed all the future chickens. The other one is meat and milk derivatives are not supposed to be mixed. And it’s all because of health issues originally that they couldn’t really explain, so they came up with some crazy story and everybody believed it and followed it but nowadays that stuff doesn’t make sense anymore. So that kind of stuff I think is silly to pass along. It’s kind of hard when you have a background in science to accept a lot of this stuff.


Do you have any concerns with your kids’ language acquisition?
Leo: A little bit. It’s a constant battle to get them to speak Portuguese. If I push Milla to speak more Portuguese by pretending I don’t understand, she tries and speaks more words. But I think because we didn’t do it from day one and because she hears us speaking English, she obviously knows that I understand, and she gets frustrated very quickly. So I can do it only for a brief amount of time before she throws a tantrum and then you just can’t do anything. I then have to go back to her in English as I don’t care as much about Portuguese as I care about surviving the day.


And because it’s a mix of three languages, and at one point four as she was in a Spanish-speaking daycare, my sense is she’s not picking up English as fast as folks who only have one language at home. I’m fine with that as she gets the benefit of multi-languages but at some point you do kind of wonder.


Ingrid: Her English is not as developed as other kids her age. I’m worried about it when she goes to school. Sometimes I want to speak to her in English so she learns to say things properly.


What have been your greatest joys as an intercultural family?
Leo: When the kids say something in your language, it kind of makes you melt a little.


Ingrid: Going around in the world I feel comfortable in different places that I wouldn’t have felt as comfortable because of our mixed family.


What have been your greatest challenges as an intercultural family?
Ingrid: We have different styles. I grew up under communism and under a dictatorship.


Leo: That couldn’t be further from the reality in Brazil. The way it materializes in everyday life is in particular with time. 2:00 for Brazilians means 2:15 or 2:30.


Ingrid: So we came up with a solution. I will award him the academic 15 minutes then I get upset if he hasn’t announced being late.


Leo: Time is one example of a broader issue which is the strictness of things. Brazilians are more relaxed about everything and nothing is a big deal and she’s more strict about things happening. Unless there is a risk to your life, death, nothing is a big deal in Brazil. It’s a function of where you live. If you live in a chaotic place, you learn to become more relaxed. It’s a matter of attitude.


Thanks Ingrid and Leo!

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