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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