It wasn’t easy growing up a ‘half caste’. I never quite knew where I fitted in. On one side, I always felt too black, and on the other, too white. My families loved me for me; they didn’t see a colour, but I still wasn’t like anybody else. I was born European-Māori, and was raised European-Samoan. That often gets a few sideways glances, but I think I’m so lucky.
Now, having two beautiful children who have a mixture of European (Irish, Scottish and English), Māori, Tokelauan and Samoan, they’re even luckier. Our daily mission, for us as a family, is to teach, nourish, and support our children to feel at home in their mix of cultures. And this is their “normal.”
An important part of our journey as a family is to acknowledge each of our cultures as being equal. In our house there is no hierarchy of cultures, as they are equal, and each is as important as the other.
My husband and I are not fluent in any other language (yet) apart from English, but we try. Often you’ll get a sentence made up with Māori, Samoan, Tokelauan, and English all at once! it’s a total mess to anybody else who’s listening, but our kids know what we’re saying, and every day we’re learning together.
You would have heard the saying “it takes a village to raise a child” and it’s right; my husband and I can’t teach our children their cultures on our own. We’re blessed with family, friends, and amazing teachers who help us daily to teach our children the ways of their cultures. This looks like: bedtime prayer and pese in Tokelauan, or their karakia mo te kai in Māori, singing Samoan pese while cooking tea (or being told off by Grandma!), Tokelauan family reunions on a marae, family lunches with sapa sui, talo, pepetu (Tokelauan pancakes) and cottage pie. That is our kids’ ‘normal’ — and they love it.
Our daughter is in a full Māori immersion class, and she picks up languages with ease, while our son is in a mainstream class. Both are doing amazingly well, and they teach each other and support each other without any prompting from us. An example: our son, who is younger, is teaching our daughter how to read in English, and our daughter is teaching our son how to recite his mihi in Māori and Tokelauan. Perhaps I’m biased, but I’m beyond proud. :)
I think it’s important for our children to see others — not just Mum and Dad — acknowledging and encouraging different languages, and seeing others be proud in their cultures. Our children are sponges, they’re eager to learn, and they have millions of questions. It’s okay to not know the answers; part of the fun is finding the answers together. How come Grandma always gets to eat first? Why aren’t you allowed to sit on tables? Why doesn’t Nanna speak Māori?
As I said earlier, I was raised a proud European-Samoan, and grew up knowing nothing of my Māori roots. It never really interested me, but looking back, I always felt like something missing. Once I became a mother I realised I didn’t want my children to have those same feelings that I had. I began my own journey to learn more about my father and my Māori roots, and I feel a lot more at peace within myself. I’m proud to be Māori and learn about my culture and the reo, and pass this knowledge onto my children. It’s taken me 30 years to grow into my skin and feel ‘normal’ in my cultures, so from day one it’s been important that our children not only know their cultures, but also that they grow up learning them too. I believe, if they feel ‘whole’ from day one, if their foundations of themselves are strong from the beginning, then their feet are firmly planted and they can only grow stronger from there.
The paths our children decide to take as they grow in life is up to them, but as a parent I feel it is my responsibility to do everything I can to give them a strong foundation in each of their cultures.
Looking back at the generation I grew up in, there weren’t as many children with mixed ethnicities as there are today. When I see the mixture of kids in my own children’s classrooms, a few questions come to mind as a parent:
- How do you support your child’s culture/s?
- How do you acknowledge each of your child’s cultures if there’s more than one?
- What do you do and where do you go if you can’t support them yourself?
One step at a time, one day at a time, go on the learning journey together.
Ko te ahurei o te tamaiti arahia o tātou mahi.
Let the uniqueness of the child guide your work.