The other day I was taking a pizza out of the oven at lunchtime, when my daughter stamped her foot and said: “I DON’T WANT pizza for lunch, I want rice and dhal!” Go figure!
I was the exact opposite when I was growing up. I never wanted to eat my mum’s traditional home-cooked fare, I longed for ‘English food’ like baked beans and mashed potato. (Clearly there is more to English cooking, but not to a six year old there isn’t.)
Joking aside, I often feel secretly proud that my daughter prefers samosas to potato smiley faces, particularly when I’m around family. It makes me feel like I’ve ‘raised her right’ by passing on the ‘right’ cultural experiences. This made me think: how do I pass on my Asian heritage and culture to a child who is growing up in Britain? My parents came to this country in the 70’s and brought with them all the richness of their culture and cultural experiences growing up in the motherland. I am very aware that as a second-generation British Asian mum this culture is somewhat diluted- the influences of my traditional, fairly conservative Asian upbringing are mixed with all the input of having grown up and been educated here in Britain. But I am very keen for my daughter to know as much as possible about her Asian heritage. I sort of have a mental check-list of all the things I think are important to pass down: language, check; food, check; music, check; traditional dress, check.
This then poses the question: is culture all about a set of external factors such as speaking a language or dressing a certain way? Clearly these things are important as they differentiate one ethnic group from another. But is there more to it than that? Is culture also to do with a mindset and a certain set of values (or is that religion?)
I recently listened to an excellent pod-cast on the BBC Asian Network on dating. One very conservative caller said in no uncertain terms that if you believe in sex outside of marriage, you can’t call yourself an Asian. Harsh words indeed! So what do you have to do, or be, to call yourself Asian, or British Asian? And from the point of view of British Asian parenting, what do we need to pass down in order that our kids can identify with their Asian heritage, rather than that aspect of themselves be something that belongs to the older generation?