When Mom Says Oy! And Dad Says ¡Ay!


When Mom Says Oy! And Dad Says ¡Ay!

At my wedding we had mariachis. That’s because my husband, Jonathan, is Latino.

We also danced the hora and got hoisted up in chairs. That’s because I’m Jewish (see above).

It was fun for me and Jonathan to pick and choose what rituals we wanted to draw upon from each of our cultures when we got married. But then, when we had a kid, it got trickier. We felt committed to helping our daughter identify as a Latina Jew. But neither one of us is very steeped in our ancestral traditions—so how would we provide an understanding of those traditions to our child? And then sometimes we’re like, why do we even care so much?

Well, Amy Choi and Rebecca Lehrer of the Mash-Up Americans project have spent a lot of time thinking about these questions—questions I bet a lot of you have been asking yourselves.

Amy is Korean-American, married to a Colombian-Mexican-American; Rebecca is a Salvadoran Jew, married to a white guy whose family has been in the States for generations. They’re both moms.

Here’s Rebecca and her husband Neil signing their ketubah, the traditional Jewish marriage contract.

And here’s Amy’s daughter Seraphina at her dol, the Korean ceremony in which the baby chooses an object that represents their future. (No pressure, baby!)

Amy and Rebecca started The Mash-Up Americans website and podcast, to help families with mashed-up cultures figure out how they fit in with each other—and with the world around them. Tune in today as Amy and Rebecca help us navigate language, baby naming, and birth rituals in hyphenated America. With, of course, some salty Yiddish insults along the way.

More Mash-Up Americans
We love Amy and Rebecca’s work and we know you will, too. Check out this video for more info about why they started their project.

Check out this episode of the podcast to hear… me! And also my husband, Jonathan. I talk about stuff there that I’ve never said on this show before… and Jonathan and I even give marriage advice. Yes, after 10 years, I am now officially qualified to do that.

And here are some more of our favorite episodes: This one will tell you all about the history of baby naming; this one is about Spanglish (it is both Amy and Rebecca’s best language); and this one is just super fun.

What traditions are you taking from YOUR culture?
Which ones could you do without, and which ones are you reinventing? Comments, please!

Headshot of Amy and Rebecca: Matt Sayles Photo
Amy’s Wedding: Studio Castillero

Our sponsors for this episode are Halo Top, SockFancy (code: LONGSHORT), Fracture(mention LST in survey at checkout), Detour, and Sunbasket Use the promo codes at checkout for a special discount.

15 thoughts on “EPISODE #124: When Mom Says Oy! And Dad Says ¡Ay!

  1. Loved this episode! Even though my husband and I are both Latinos, there is still a huge difference! He’s from Puerto Rico and I am from Ecuador and there are just some things that are vastly different from our upbringings (ex. I never had pancakes nor ‘breakfast foods’ growing up – we ate lentils or seafood for breakfast!). I am a first generation immigrant and my husband grew up on the island. Even the music we listened to growing up is different! The one common ground we have is Spanish only in the house and no ‘slang’ Spanish – this is mostly for us. We do not want more Puerto Rican or Ecuadorian Spanish slangs, just to be fair LOL!

  2. I totally connected with this episode b/c I am this has all been present on my mind since my first kid was born in 2011. As a Korean adoptee and mom, I definitely struggle with how I want my kids to “identify”. I never grew up with anything Korean and was raised in a “love is enough” familial environment. It wasn’t til I was an adult and living on my own, did I begin to be curious about my heritage. I grew up in a primarily Italian-American household, so I identified as a white Italian American, even though I look very much Korean! So the “you can’t be, what you can’t see” is something that has followed me for years. And my maiden name was Hofmann, so people always thought I was Jewish…until they met me! I would like for my kids to identify proudly as Korean, b/c that is something I have struggled with my whole life. But it all seems very forced, since I have to learn Korean culture as an adult. As of now, my daughter *loves* Korean BBQ and says that I’m from the part of Korea “where you can visit and come back”. But that is pretty much the extent of her knowledge of her Korean-ness. I’d love to incorporate more, but like most people, free-time is scarce and I just haven’t had the time to commit to this.

    1. I’m also a fellow KAD (Korean-Adoptee). Like you, I struggled with identity and tried very hard to be as “white” as possible growing up. In some ways, I’m envious of friends who are half-Korean because they at least have one parent to preserve and pass down the culture whereas I’ve had to educate myself over the years and still am! I don’t have children, but I have always wondered too how I would raise my kids to be Korean or appreciative of their very visual identity, especially since we’re now in an age where diversity in most circles is welcomed & celebrated. B/c I never had anyone who looked like me, I’d be a little sad if I had a child who didn’t look Korean.

  3. Great episode! Really hit home for me. I am an immigrant from France and have a 6 month old. My husband is a multi generational white American. I speak and intend to continue speaking French to our daughter but I’m worried that she will not respond to me in French but instead in English as we are surrounded by English at home and outside. Just like the two guests of this podcasts who mentioned responding in English to the whole Korean family.
    How do you encourage a child to speak in the native language of the immigrant parent? Does anyone have children that resist it? Who resist the culture ?
    I feel so discouraged.

    1. Speak French exclusively at home! My first language is English, my partner is fully bilingual and we live in Quebec. Our kids are surrounded in French at school and we decided to only speak English at home (read books and watch TV in English). They are fully bilingual and hopefully quadrilingual by the time they finish primary school…

    2. My cousins refused to speak English to their children in the household. When they would speak to them in English they would respond in their language that they don’t understand what they’re saying. If you are consistent then they won’t have a choice. This is what I intend to do.

  4. Great episode. I can relate but as the white person in my marriage which comes with a lot of guilt, pressure, and responsibility. My husband is from Guatemala. We struggled with names for our two sons and continually struggle with how to make them feel connected to not just being American but also being Guatemalan which is hard because my husband’s family does not live in the U.S. My 5 year old mostly rejects speaking Spanish which breaks my husband’s heart and mine because I feel responsible. To add to the identity crisis, my sons go to a Japanese daycare where the teachers and many of the children speak Japanese. My 5 year old asks almost every day why he isn’t Japanese and when are we going to travel to Japan. I was also faced with how to label my children when filled out the kindergarten paperwork and had to check an ethnicity. I really loved hearing about how other families grapple with language, culture, and traditions at home.

  5. I am the mother of a deaf two-year-old with cochlear implants. We started learning ASL as soon as we found out our daughter was deaf, and it’s been one of my primary goals as a parent to become fluent for her. She won’t necessarily need it (she can “hear” with the implants and speaks perfectly), but when it comes down to it she is a deaf person. Or goal is for her to choose how she wants to identify when she’s older. If that means throwing away her implants and being a part of the Deaf community, that’s fine with us. Listening to this episode’s conversation made me see the parallels between my daughter’s genetic identity and Amy and Rebecca’s kids’ ethnic identities (my husband and I are both hearing and basically American mutts), except we don’t share the deaf identity with her. It’s what I expect some parents of adopted children experience. We are having to learn for her about Deaf culture, ASL, and what it means to be deaf. One reassuring thing is that I know there will be other kids like her, just like there are more and more “mashed-up” kids. And they’ll all decide how to live their identities in a new beautiful way. Probably not the same way we do, but that’s ok. They are the future, and if we give them the tools and opportunity they need to function (like language to travel abroad), I trust they will do well. I love who she is, her deafness, and in no way see her as disabled. Even if it comes with disadvantages, I’m ready to prepare her to face them and be stronger for it (both of us). We are so lucky to live in this time with so much opportunity and celebrated diversity. Sorry to ramble on!

  6. This episode would have really been useful before I had kids! I am British Asian and my partner is caucasian French, and we now live in Canada. What I have come to realize is that we are all becoming world citizens. Even the school curriculum in my city is moving this way. As such, I am happy to cherry pick the best qualities/values of each culture I have experienced (even those that I come across through travels and friends) and try and instill these into our kids.

  7. Hi! I love the show! So this episode was really important for me because it is so current in my own life. I am an American (mother of Mexican descent and father was of Croatian descent but I usually only identify with my mom’s Mexican side) but I am living in Germany and married to a Czech man who has lived here since he was 4. We have a son who can only say a few words but all of those words are in German. I only speak to him in English and I have started only speaking to my husband in English when my son can hear (which is strange because we have for the last 6.5 years only spoken to each other in German and the strangeness of having a relationship in one language and changing to another one is a whole other bag of worms) but I have sanctified our home as American. This means that we rarely celebrate German holidays and always celebrate American ones. My husband speaks many languages but he refuses to speak to our son in Czech and so does his parents (they’re first language was German although they were both born in the Czech Republic but they speak to each other only in Czech, it’s very complicated). I want my son to be American because it is my culture (as well as a Mexican but that too is my culture) and he seems to be becoming a German which is really heart-breaking, not because I don’t like the German culture but rather I don’t want him to be foreign to me or my family. His name is Milo John Henry (pronounced Meeee-Looo) which is really hard for Americans to say but we just really liked it. John is the name of my father and my brother and several generations before them and Henry is for Henry James (my husband’s favorite author). It’s really complicatd but I am trying to keep my son as American I can while living in foreign country.

  8. Thank you for this thoughtful episode on identity. We like to believe that labels, boundaries, and languages define who we are but as Amy stated, identity is fluid. Personally, I share Amy’s ambitions and appreciate her honesty that much of what drives our behavior with our children is some sort of self-reconciliation. Parenthood gives us a chance to redirect our narrative.

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