|It is important for parents to maintain culture and traditions, even if the family lives abroad, as it helps children identify with a community and give them a sense of belonging.
By BRIGITTE ROZARIO
Culture and tradition are tough to impart to children today what with the constant bombardment of foreign influences via the media. It's hard enough for those living in Malaysia where culture, customs and traditions are so much a part of our daily life, and even more so if you live abroad.
ParenThots speaks to three mothers this week to find out how they maintain and share their culture with their children while living in a western country.
Sense of belonging
Chief financial officer Leong Lai-Peng, 45, believes that it is important to maintain her culture even though she has been living in Australia since the age of 13.
The mother of three, two girls aged 11 and 13 and a boy aged six, says that culture gives her family a sense of belonging, to be able to identify themselves within a group of people.
“The primary reason for my parents' decision to migrate was for a better education and more opportunities for me and my siblings. At that time, many parents sent their kids abroad to boarding schools, especially in England. My parents had enrolled my sister in a boarding school in Badminton, England, but changed their minds in the end. They just could not bear to part with her then. They wanted the family to be together. This was important to them and this sense of family and togetherness was very much inculcated in me and something I feel is quite a strong Asian value.
“In those years, in the 1980s, being in a foreign land, it was difficult to maintain our culture and to feel that sense of belonging. There was Asian food and a Chinatown and we did celebrate Chinese New Year, albeit in a much, much smaller scale. But, the issue goes deeper than that. In a foreign land, it is difficult to identify yourself with the community, especially in the teenage years. During those formative years, I found it difficult to be myself. I thought I had to blend in, to be less Asian perhaps. There were not that many Asians around, unlike today; so, who did I have to identify with? What was my culture?” writes Leong in an email interview.
She explains that after completing her tertiary education in Australia, she worked there for a while before moving to Singapore. She wanted to experience life in Asia and feel that sense of belonging.
|Leong with her husband and three children in Australia.
As a mum, Leong now realises the importance of having culture in her life as well as the lives of her children. It is much more important to her today than it was when she was a teenager.
“It certainly does take conscious effort for us in Australia. We are more fortunate nowadays as the Asian population here has grown tremendously since my teenage years! There is more acknowledgement of cultural diversity in society, schools and the media. But it still takes a concerted effort to reinforce key Asian values in our kids – such as the sense of family and respect for elders. As I am not particularly traditional, so many practices are lost. But for a start, my kids use their Chinese names rather than English names. That is important in reinforcing their race, especially in a western country.
“Let's face it, in this very global world , it is a losing battle to try to preserve a certain culture. We all travel, we all get exposed to many foreign cultures, and we learn to adopt the positive ones in our lives. So, it is now a mixed bag of cultures, which may not be such a bad thing. As long as the kids feel a sense of belonging, security and confidence about themselves, I think that is good enough,” adds Leong realistically.
Importance of food
Jewellery business owner Adeline Lamond, 44, agrees that imparting her culture to her children is extremely important.
Adeline and her husband David have two children – Zoe, 15, and Alex, 13. Born in Malaysia, Adeline had her primary education in Kuala Lumpur, before moving to England to study. After returning to Malaysia, she met her Australian husband David. The family later moved to Singapore and now live in Sydney.
When her parents were still in Malaysia, Adeline made it a point to visit them annually.
“During those visits, my parents would tell them stories of their past and about our family history. We would also take our children to Malacca to visit our relatives. Food plays a huge part in the culture immersion. My children have been brought up eating bak kut teh, Hainanese chicken rice, and more importantly (according to my son) nasi lemak. This is his annual request for his birthday dinner,” says Adeline.
According to her, language is more difficult to maintain. This is because Adeline herself spoke in English to her parents as she was growing up.
She does occasionally speak in Chinese and Malay but those are her “angry moments” and definitely not words worth repeating. Unfortunately for her though, her kids have caught on.
|A 12-year-old Alex serving his parents Adeline and David tea for Chinese New Year.
One of the cultural traditions that Adeline has taught her kids to practise is the tea serving ceremony during Chinese New Year.
“Every Chinese New Year, we have a tea ceremony where the children will kneel and serve tea to us. I'm not sure if they accept this ritual as part of their culture or maybe they don't mind doing this as they know they get an 'ang pow' packet after the ritual,” says Adeline.
The Lamonds have taught their children to value their background. Hence, when asked what their ethnicity is, her children never shy away from answering “half Aussie and half Malaysian Chinese.”
“I have grown up with my parents emphasising that we were Malaysian Chinese and thus, I have imparted that onto my children. I think (and a lot of people would agree with me) that I am quite Westernised but as I get older, my 'Malaysian-ness' seems to be creeping out more. I haven't given up my citizenship - in fact, I am quite reluctant to do so.
“I think my children are happy with the level of 'Malaysian-ness' in the family and feel there is an equal balance between the Aussie and Malaysian culture in our family,” she adds.
For graphic designer/ photographer Charmaine Joseph, maintaining her culture is mostly about food. She is a second generation Malaysian of Southern Indian descent. Both her parents spoke different languages and were English teachers. Hence, English was the language spoken at home and she never mastered any of the Indian languages.
The thirty-something mother of two says this made her feel like she never truly fit in with the Indian community in Malaysia.
Her husband is an Indian citizen from Punjab and the couple has two kids. The elder boy is two years and seven months, and the younger boy is six months old.
“We left Malaysia in 2009. We lived in India for a year when I was expecting our first child and we moved to the Netherlands when he was seven months old,” she explains via email.
Joseph was raised in a mixed cultural environment, having family members of varying races and religions. As such, there wasn't a set of rules or traditions to follow. Her family mixed and matched traditions and customs as they pleased. She says they basically celebrated everything that involved food.
“I celebrate as many of the Malaysian celebrations as possible. We had yee sang for Chinese New Year and made it on two more occasions for friends.
“There's quite a large community of Malaysians here. It's pretty easy to get great home-cooked rendang, laksa and nasi lemak. I work near an Asian market and food bazaar and my friend's brother runs a Malaysian Penang stall there as well, so that helps,” she explains.
|Joseph with her husband and children. The children get a daily dosage of various languages - Dutch, Punjabi, Bahasa Malaysia, German, Hokkien and, not forgetting, baby sign language!
Although Joseph spoke purely in English at home, her children get a regular dose of several languages now as she and her husband speak to them in a smattering of Dutch, Punjabi, Bahasa Malaysia, German, Hokkien and, not forgetting, baby sign language!
Joseph and her husband are not sure if they will settle down in the Netherlands or eventually move elsewhere. They may even return to Malaysia one day.
“I may be living on the other side of the globe but my stomach will always be truly Malaysian,” she says.