From Chicken Soup for the Latino Soul

Raising Our Family at
the Cultural Crossroads

When my husband and I were thinking of names for our baby son, we knew we wanted a Spanish name that English speakers could pronounce easily. It needed to be short, preferably two syllables. We came up with Diego, which gave our son the same initials as his dad, D. S. The S is for Spielman.

Thinking about names was my family’s first conscious effort to blend our multiple cultures. I was born and raised in Puerto Rico; I have lived in the United States for fourteen years, and in Philadelphia for the past seven. I am a product of twelve years of Catholic schooling, but I haven’t practiced this faith in a long time. My Jewish husband, a Philly native, comes from a nonreligious family that observes the major holidays. These seemingly different cultures did not stop us from finding love and common ground in our shared values, professional interests and social concerns. These differences are now helping us figure out how to raise our son in an environment that blends our languages, cultural traditions, family rituals and perspectives on life.

We’ve decided to take what we like from each other’s cultures—and from other cultures—and mix it up in flexible, nonprescriptive ways. What some scholars call “cultural syncretism,” we like to call our homemade rice-and-beans-matzo-ball soup. For example, when it came time to put together our baby’s welcoming celebration, I bought the book How to Be a Jewish Parent by Anita Diamant and looked up “baptism” on Google. Grounded in my Catholic-derived belief that babies need to be blessed when they are born, we agreed to create our own ceremony. Using my sources, we put together a celebration that combined reading a poem by a Lebanese author, some verses traditionally read at the Jewish “bris,” and a special blessing written by our son’s Puerto Rican grandparents. Our community of family and friends blessed water as it went around the room in a bowl before being poured over our son’s head.

Another ingredient in our homemade cultural blend is the collection of family stories that we plan to share with our son. We hope that these stories will give him a sense of history and belonging. There’s the story of his Puerto Rican great-aunt, Mercedita, who helped raise my mother. She was the oldest of ten children living on a coffee farm in Puerto Rico. After a hurricane destroyed the farm, she moved with her family to San Juan and learned to sew beautiful dresses for carnival queens and brides. He will also hear stories about his Jewish great-grandfather, Leon, who had a gift for working with wood and a palette of colors. Most important, we will share stories about Carol, his paternal grandmother, who passed away three months before he was born. She loved to tell the story of the birth of her sons. She would have given anything to tell Diego the story herself. We will retell the story in her memory.

The mix of stories, rituals and beliefs that we share with our son will shape his perspectives on life, people and the world that surrounds him. We hope that our homemade “soup” will nurture the seeds of curiosity, tolerance, fairness and hope. I am sure he will meet other children growing up in similarly mixed families, as the blend of cultures and traditions increasingly becomes the norm in many American homes.

During our son’s first holiday season, we lit Hanukkah candles with my Catholic family in Puerto Rico, and my husband and I agreed, after some negotiation, that the Three Kings could come to our house in Philadelphia. We also talked about and remembered the people and life stories that made it possible for us to celebrate our blended holidays together. These are the people and stories that we hope to honor as we mold, shape, blend and bless the rich cultures of our families in our everyday lives.

Liza M. Rodriguez

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