As you know I am a mother of two beautiful trilingual toddlers. By definition we are a very diverse and international family. I have a Portuguese/French background and my husband is from Peru. Our children have three citizenships, i.e. Australian, Portuguese and Peruvian. Better than a spy!!
I grew up in a very cosmopolitan city Paris. My neighbours and school friends were from all over Europe, North Africa and Asia, no Australians though…. too far.
For me, hearing so many different languages and seeing people with different traits is normal. I remember I used to love the end of the Ramadan celebration “Eid”. I am not a religious person but I loved when my neighbour shared the ‘Gazelle ankles’ (in French it is called ‘Gazelle horns’) and other delicious sweets. They were a good opportunity to know about their customs, religion, food and art. Have you been lucky enough to attend a Moroccan wedding? The bride wore 7 dresses. I thought getting the one dress right was already enough of a headache!
I loved Christmas meals at home because we had a Portuguese dinner on Christmas’s Eve and a French lunch on Christmas day.
I listened to music from Africa, Portugal, France, US, UK, Latin America, Spain even from Germany.
Multiculturalism was all around.
I came over to Perth 10 years ago to study a Master and it was my third trip to Australia. I have backpacked across the country. My first impressions of Perth as a resident were very different than when I had visited the city as a tourist. I had a cultural shock, shops closing at 5pm, few cultural events offered. I used to go and see a play, an exhibition or explore a museum every week end. Then I realised that instead of longing for the Parisian life I should take the opportunity to discover Perth and its cultural and outdoor attractions.
The one thing I did not expect is to meet so many South Americans and practise my Spanish so much. Most of my Latino friends migrate about the same I did. They mostly work in the Resources Industry. My wedding was like a UN convention.
I love it! My children have Spanish speaking playdates, we get to eat food, hear stories, sing songs, discover customs from all over South America.
I hear a lot about ensuring diversity at work mostly because I used to work for a mining company. By diversity, they mean getting enough important jobs for women, no discrimination due to personal beliefs or non-beliefs, gender, sexual preferences, etc… I agree with all this but I think that there is not enough emphasis on the significance of starting this discussion from earlier on.
I do believe that educating children early on on such issues as diversity, multiculturalism, challenges such as sexism, racism, homophobia will benefit the society by producing citizens with a better understanding of the world they live in, more tolerance, respect and curiosity about other cultures.
In France, you will never see a Christmas play in a public school because it is a secular country. However, when I studied German, every year we made an Advent Calendar and read Christmas stories as a German tradition.
Schools could do a little better to increase the exposure of children to other cultures. After all, this is where children interact the most.
I always loved the idea of having a special week celebrating the “World citizens”. Let people come and talk to the kids about their culture, their art, their music, teach a few words. Like a ‘Show and Tell’ day! What about giving assignments where children can do projects research on a country and its culture. Get them to interact with members of the community they are studying.
What can you do at home to expose children to other cultures?
Well, there is food. It is always a great idea to introduce new dishes.
There are games, such as world map puzzles, memory cards.
Books are my personal favourite. I show my children books on ‘Children around the world’ and ‘The alphabet from around the world’. They are of course in French. Books with foreign myths, legends and traditions.
There are other resources such as DVDs and TV shows like ‘Dora the explorer’, ‘Mouk’.
Music is also a great resource, which children does not like to dance to the rhythms of the drums or sing ‘Frere Jacques’?
There are always Festivals organised throughout the year where you can listen to music, see dances and traditional outfits. It is good opportunity to meet new people and practise your language skills.
Expose children to a foreign language by enrolling them in language playgroups or workshops. Not only their brain will benefit but they will get used to hear different languages and learn about other cultures from an early age. Young children do not judge, they just take things as they are. If it is fun, it is fun no matter what language people speak.
The State Library of WA organises a free international story time and a new country is presented each month.
Craft activities are a great and fun way to introduce a new culture. Each week, we publish on our Facebook page a craft activity from around the world. So far we made an ‘Arpillera’ from Peru, an African Drum and mini Paris cut outs perfect for role playing.
We can only enrich ourselves by learning from others. Why wait? Let’s open a window to our world.