Teaching kids about their roots

Once again I was embarrassed because I don’t know how to speak Japanese. I was invited to dinner with some delegates from our city’s Japanese sister city, and one of them began speaking to me in Japanese. Eh, eh, sumimasen!

My mother did not raise her children to speak Japanese. Later, as in a few years ago, I was miffed that Mom didn’t teach me anything but some children’s songs and how to count to ten. I could also ask for more tea. I took private lessons one summer, but my older brain had a hard time picking up such a complex language. Plus, I didn’t have much time to study. I quit after I discovered that not only do the words for numbers change with the type of item being counted, but men and women use different words. Then there’s that politeness thing where the word usage changes if someone is higher in authority than you. Even the word “mother” is different depending on who you’re talking to.  It would be better if I just shut up. Except I really wish I could speak Japanese!

Mom did tell us stories of growing up in Japan, and we had interesting Japanese items in the house. I played down the Japanese half of me then, but nowadays mixed heritage is cool. Knowing a second language is not only cool but very useful as the world has gotten smaller. I’m love how the girls down the street are growing up speaking both German and English.

We have plenty of Japanese items in our house. I read Japanese fairytales to my kids when they were little and taught them the Shojoji song. I took them to the annual Japanese Festival. They were raised on Japanese rice (no American rice in our house), and like it with soy sauce and seaweed sprinkles, served in cute Japanese bowls. They are all-American, but touched by Japanese.

In St. Louis we are lucky enough to have lots of ethnic groups. There is an annual Hispanic festival, Chinese festival, and Japanese Festival. There is a Festival of Nations and an Asian-American festival. The Greek churches have festivals. The Scottish Games are held in October, and the Santa Lucia Swedish celebration in December. We have an Italian area (The Hill), Little Bosnia, and Chinatown. No excuse not to teach our kids about their heritage, and everyone else’s! That way, when we go traveling overseas we won’t be total gaijins.

A bento box of deli meat sushi rolls for school lunch

A bento box of deli meat sushi rolls for school lunch


About moonbridgebooks

Co-author of Cherry Blossoms in Twilight, a WWII Japan memoir of her mother's childhood; author of Poems That Come to Mind, for caregivers of dementia patients; Co-author/Editor of Battlefield Doc, a medic's memoir of combat duty during the Korean War; life writing enthusiast; loves history and culture (especially Japan), poetry, and cats
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5 Responses to Teaching kids about their roots

  1. When our boys were growing up, we visited the Sicilian town where my father was born and we met my father’s extended family. This was truly a highlight of their growing up years, and the best thing is our sons keep in touch with their distant cousins via social media. We have been back to visit several times. In high school, my son visited Ireland, where my husband’s family’s roots are.
    The language issue is difficult. I squeezed in several Italian classes and got to be fairly fluent, but it’s been a few years now since I’ve been to Italy, and I’ve lost a lot of what I learned.

  2. Japanese sounds like an intricate language with all those gender and class rules.

  3. How wonderful, Valorie! I guess the cousins speak some English to communicate on Facebook. Yes, keeping up with a language is difficult if there’s no one around to talk to. But, once you learn it, it may come back to you. I still remember enough high school French to get around a bit in France. Sometimes you can find online groups that communicate in a foreign language just so its members can stay fluent. Japanese really is an intricate language, so my brain hurts just thinking about learning it.

  4. I have a feeling it will be bad that I do not speak a lick of German when I travel to Germany this fall to visit one of my mom’s ancestral towns. I plan to come bearing gifts so that I do not look like the ugly (ignorant) American.

  5. Haha, Kim, you might want to get one of those German/English dictionaries and learn a few words, at least so you know what you’re eating at the restaurants (Mehr bier, bitte). I’m sure a lot of Germans speak some English, and at least they use the English alphabet so the signs will be readable.

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