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Tuesday, September 6th, 2011

Our Trilingual Family Origins


A while back someone asked me where I am from. I explained that I am half French and half American to which they responded, “Oh, so you’re Canadian!” If only it were so easy. Their response got me thinking about identity, culture and one’s sense of self and belonging.

Growing up in New York with a Brooklyn-born father and a French mother from Normandy, I never really felt American. I did feel like a New Yorker–part of New York’s very international population. I grew up near the United Nations and attended a school full of kids from around the world. My father was also a travel agent, always coming back from distant countries with amazing stories like baboons breaking into his hut and foaming at the mouth while eating his antacids. So, when he said that New York was the capital of the world, I took his word for it.

With American friends, I always felt like the odd one out, but in France, I definitely didn’t feel fully French. As a child, the way I worked around it was by thinking of myself as transatlantic. I guess that isn’t surprising from a kid who spent an enormous amount of time on planes staring out the window.

What does it mean to be from somewhere? Is it where you are born? Does it depend on which passports you hold or is it where you grow up? And how does language influence all this?

My oldest girl P, age three, was born in Brooklyn. She holds the French and U.S. passports but her Mexican father makes her half Mexican. Our baby girl C was born in Singapore. She’s just turning one and has a U.S. passport. Before September is out, she will also have her French passport. Like her sister, she is half Mexican, even if neither girl holds Mexican passports.

We are trying to raise our kids trilingually (French, English, Spanish). P even has Chinese at her local school but I don’t actually do anything additional to support that since I am struggling enough with French and Spanish. We live in Singapore now. Who knows where we will live in the future. I don’t know how these places will influence my girls or where they will say they are from but as long as they know their origins, I am not going to worry about it. And for the record, if I had to pick one nationality, I’d be proud to be a Canadian.

I’m thrilled to be blogging for the community on InCultureParent.

© 2011, Cordelia Newlin de Rojas. All rights reserved.

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Born in New York back when subway graffiti was rife, Cordelia Newlin de Rojas mostly spends her time pondering, parenting, and writing. Franco-American, she spent her summers in the Loire indulging in heart-arresting foods. An eclectic background ranging from Japanese art and postal history to environmental social innovations and rigging dinghies has taken her to England, Turkey, Singapore and now Thailand, where she resides with her Mexican husband and their two daughters. They are attempting to raise trilingual kids in Spanish, French and English with some Thai thrown in. She can also be found blogging at

Leave us a comment!

  1. CommentsAlbis   |  Thursday, 28 March 2013 at 4:01 am

    Hello Cordelia

    I am glad I found this blog and your post. I am a Peruvian living in Australia and I have a 5 months old baby. My wife was born in Portugal but she grew up in Paris so french is her main language but she is fluent in Portuguese, English and Spanish. As you can imagine we also want to raise our son in a trilingual home. I speak Spanish with him, my wife French and he would learn English from childcare. I guess it will not be easy but we think it is important and we will do our best to support him. I always wonder if this will feel about his cultural identity and this is where websites like this are very important to get answers to many questions that I am sure will come up and to share our experiences.

    Thanks for writing, I look forward to read new posts.


  2. CommentsCordelia Newlin de Rojas   |  Thursday, 28 March 2013 at 7:13 pm

    Albis, I am glad you found this website too! I remember what it was like in the beginning and I was really grateful when I started finding others like me to share our experiences.We are lucky these days as there are so many wonderful resources and communities online for support. It’s seldom easy but it is so rewarding. All I can say is not to worry too much and do the best you can. Good luck and I hope to ‘see’ you online again!

  3. CommentsInCultureParent | Are French Kids Better Behaved Because They are Spanked?   |  Tuesday, 20 August 2013 at 9:31 am

    […] Growing up Franco-American, the to spank vs. not to spank debate was one I encountered frequently. One thing mentioned routinely was how children should only be spanked until they reach l’age de raison or the age of reason, considered to be around six or seven years old. I can’t really speak to this; I know that I was spanked maybe once after this age. I distinctly recall being angry about it but also ashamed, as I was totally aware that I had pushed my mother too far and, as angry as I was, I understood why she did it even though we both knew once it had happened that she shouldn’t have. Upon becoming a parent, I even forgave her for it and felt bad at how relentless I had been in my disobedience, something I am now experiencing with my own kids. Karma? […]

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