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Monday, January 23, 2012

Happy Chinese New Year!

Our family is a bit of a mixed plate. We are a Chinese-Polish-American family (although I'm sure that my husband would say that we're a Polish-Chinese-American family). I know, kind of an odd combination, right? It's even funnier when you see my five year old son, who looks more Asian than not, speak fluent Polish. But, there are strong cultural traditions tied to both of our cultures and it's important to both me and my husband that our kids learn about and appreciate their heritage. Since holidays are seeped in tradition, history and customs, we often use them as a way to share our respective cultures with our kids in a concrete way.

Over the weekend, we spent a lot of time preparing for Chinese New Year and exposing the boys to a bit more of their Chinese heritage. Chinese New Year, which starts today, is the most important of the traditional Chinese holidays and celebrates the end of winter and the coming of spring. This year is the Year of the Dragon, the most auspicious in the Chinese zodiac. It's a symbol of good fortune, power, and intelligence.

My older son has started to become more curious about Chinese culture and we've been reading and talking about Chinese New Year for the past couple of weeks - all the preparations that have to be done (cleaning, cooking, decorating, buying new clothes, haircuts) as well as traditional celebrations, especially the lion dance. We decided to take the boys to the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA), which is housed in a gorgeous renovated space in Chinatown designed by Maya Lin, since they were putting on a lion dance demonstration. We crammed together with about a hundred or so other people in the small lobby of the museum and watched as the lions came to life, dancing around the space. The Buddha led the lions to two heads of green cabbage on the floor which they proceeded to gobble up and spit back at the audience. My older son loved it and thought it was the funniest thing in the world. My younger son, on the other hand, had a death grip on my husband and buried his face into his shoulder pretty much the entire performance. Above the loud music, all I could hear was him crying, "Go away lions!" Perfect. I think that we traumatized him.

As a first generation American, my ties to the Chinese language and culture are definitely not strong. My language skills aren't great (my vocabulary tops off at about the level of a 3 year old) and I'm not familiar with all the history and traditions. I worry about what I am able to pass down to my sons and subsequently, what they will be able to pass down to their children. So when my older son asked me to come to his classroom on Chinese New Year to do a special activity with his class, I was excited and terrified. I know how excited and proud he would be to have his Mommy come to class and I didn't want to disappoint him. So, I did what any parent in my position would do. I googled "Chinese New Year arts and crafts." In the end, it turned out great. The kids made dragon puppets and I read them a story and brought them lucky red envelopes. The kids were so creative in decorating their dragon heads - truly impressive little artists. 

I don't know about you but sometimes I find straddling the line between two (and now three) different cultures to be challenging - of being mixed race and not 100% this or that, of doing justice to all three cultures. But I also think about the amazing wealth of experience and exposure that my kids will grow up with which is so different from the community in which I grew up in. 

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At January 23, 2012 at 7:06 PM , Blogger Surfing Grandma of OC said...

I just did a search on my Chinese Zodiac sign along with my family. I am Horse..and Found out my husband is a Rat. and apparently we are Mortal Enemies...I cant stop laughing about this! =)

At January 23, 2012 at 7:43 PM , Blogger Rad Surfing Mom and Urban Homesteader said...

Wonderful posting and I love how you are honoring your heritage. As time goes by people more and more are losing their ties to their roots. It is important for everyone in the family to honor a tradition, talk about the language and history to keep it alive. Thanks to the likes of and other programs people are able to find their family members of long ago. You can find out where they came from and what occupation they held, etc. I love learning about new cultures all the time and I hope one day to visit the places of my ancestors.

At January 23, 2012 at 8:30 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Ha Ha! That's hilarious! Figures, right?

At January 23, 2012 at 8:36 PM , Blogger Christine said...

Thank you. We try to do what we can to honor our heritage and it's actually been good for me because I've been learning a lot as I've been trying to teach my kids! Win-Win right? Everyone learns!


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