What I Learned About Being the Family Keeper After My Mom Passed Away

Sponsored by Chevrolet Equinox When I was growing up, my home was full of the sounds and smells of Puerto Rico

family keeper

Photo courtesy of Shayne Rodriguez Thompson

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When I was growing up, my home was full of the sounds and smells of Puerto Rico. Even during the bitter cold New Jersey winters, we felt connected to the island. It was in large part thanks to my mother, who joyfully took on the role of the family keeper. My amazing mamí passed away several years ago. Now with two kids of my own, it’s come time for me to be the family keeper. I take pride in teaching my kids about our culture and passing along our traditions, the same way that my own mother did. I’ve done it intentionally and thoughtfully from the time they were babies. Now they’re nine and six, and I’m confident they not only know their Puerto Rican roots, but that they’re proud of them.

Here are some of the ways that I’ve helped my children stay in touch with their Latinx heritage:

Spend Time with Extended Family

You don’t have to do it alone! Your extended family—whatever that looks like—is invaluable when it comes to maintaining traditions. Collectively, the members of a family can put together a tapestry that helps your kids understand their heritage on a deeper, more tangible level. At parties and family gatherings, we share stories and memories that each member of the family can add to when passing them onto our children. You know what it’s like every time a Latinx family gets together and the same stories are told again and again? That’s valuable! For generations, indigenous people have told their histories orally, and it’s something we should never give up.


Travel to Your Family’s Country of Origin

If it’s within your means, try to take regular trips to your family’s country of origin. There’s nothing like being in the actual place—and not just the touristy areas—to really help someone truly understand its heart and soul. This is particularly important if you don’t have much extended family close to you. When you visit your family’s home country, your kids will get to see people who look like them and be immersed in the culture and language. Plus, there could be educational opportunities as well if you plan visits to museums, landmarks and other educational sites of interest.


Attend Cultural Events

Go online and search for events related to your culture that are happening within driving distance of where you live. A lot of community organizations, schools, libraries, etc., plan events honoring certain cultural communities and there are Latinx heritage events, parades and celebrations held in pretty much every state, even if they do only happen during Latinx heritage month. Take your kids out to these events as often as possible, especially while they’re still young and interested. It’ll likely give them a chance to learn some history, maybe sample some food and meet some new people who share your background.


Cook Foods From Your Culture For Your Family

Even if you already know how to cook a few dishes, call your mom, your tiá, your abuela, your prima, whomever, and start writing down their recipes. Introduce foods from your culture early on so they don’t think dino nuggets and tater tots are a part of their culinary heritage. Try to make at least one meal a week something from your family’s culture and take as much time as you can to prepare it lovingly, perhaps even getting your kids in the kitchen so they can learn too.


Integrate Language, Pastimes & Customs Into Your Day-to-Day 

Make sure that aspects of your culture are a normal part of life for your family. Speak Spanish or Spanglish around the house (or learn it together), play games like loteria and dominoes, keep blasting salsa music while everyone cleans the house on Saturday morning. These are the things we all grew up with and no matter how small or insignificant they seemed at the time, they played a part in shaping our cultural heritage and the pride we have in our roots. 

Our kids need us to be intentional about passing down family traditions and teaching them about our Latinx cultures, because one day, they’ll be the ones responsible for sharing those cultural traditions and artifacts with the next generation. If we let it go now, we risk not just our children losing their cultural identities, but their children as well.

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