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Storytelling my Multicultural Motherhood

Today is Canadian Multiculturalism Day. As an immigrant mother living in Canada, this day is important to me. Growing up in a bicultural environment, my own identity is a blend of cultures and experiences that have defined the way that I think, the way I see the world, the things I find important. Today I am a mother, and I have the responsibility to raise my children, and this topic is important and very relevant to me, to many of us.

The conversation of culture in motherhood is not a new topic. As a mother, perhaps I am more aware of it now, but it’s been around for a long time. I think back to the moments my grandparents told me the stories their grandparents told them. Every funny anecdote was unconsciously forming and becoming part of my cultural make up. These anecdotes continued throughout my childhood. From stories of my Dad’s innocent mischievousness at school, to how the children respected their teachers and elders. From songs my mother taught me to harmonize to, and realizing that the lyrics, the story within the melody, are what I remember the most.

It seems to come down to the power of storytelling as the way I understood and learned about culture, about the world. It’s a way in which many of us have. Within storytelling, it also meant reunion, time together, laughs, and celebration. In a world where so much culture is being told through advertising companies, social media and other voices, I think it’s especially important to practice a strong narrative in my home and in my parenting.

I attended an event last week which screened the documentary film “Embrace” by Taryn Brumfitt, a body image activist. The movie explored the current culture of body image, and one of the lines in the movie that stuck with me, was one from a mother. She said she was constantly doing “damage control” when it came to what her daughter understood as important or not, when it came to her body image. I relate to this when it comes to teaching my children about culture. I want my stories, my voice,  to be what my children hear the loudest. To be what grounds them morally and in their values. I take on a huge responsibility in that I have to tell those stories right.

I want them to know their mother’s language so that they are able to sing the songs that I sang as a child, so they can read books and poetry that I read growing up, and to read it in the language it was written in. I want them to know how to make Ají de Gallina and Papa Rellena, and to proudly take that to their “Bring a Traditional Dish” to school/work day.

So how do I make sure my children hear my voice as what grounds them? It really comes down to how I spend my time with them. The pace in which the world moves in today makes it feel like we are on a constant battle of catching up. We are in a hurry to get nowhere, fast. Isn’t that ironic? I am slowing down, and creating moment and anecdotes with my children. Through play, through exploration, we are creating the stories and experiences that start to shape who they become, the same stories they will be telling their children, and their children. The art of storytelling in culture, in my form of being their mother, staying alive.

It sounds like a lot of things I want for my children, who doesn’t? I admit that I worry sometimes I won’t be successful in teaching them and passing on all I want to. Thankfully, I am not alone. The narrative of culture isn’t just from one voice. They say it takes a village to raise a child, and it does. It’s important that my children hear stories from their grandparents, their uncles and aunts, friends, the family outside of just their mother and father.

Everyday, I become more aware to continue to tell my children stories, with good and right rhetoric. To continue teaching them about their culture in the little moments of the day. When we’re out for walks, when we make art together, when we play, when we sing songs, when we cuddle on the couch, when we read books, when we get dirty, when we eat yummy foods.

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Motherhood through Culture

They say you can leave Africa, but Africa will never leave you.


I grew up in Africa. 9 years of my childhood was spent in that beautiful land which has very much defined and influenced the person I am today. I remember watching women carry babies on their backs with beautifully patterned chitenges, while balancing buckets of water or wood on their heads. All while looking as graceful and calm as a mother can be. Those are the images that I remember now as a mother myself.

I am also Peruvian. My daughter calls me Mamá, I sing “Los Pollitos Dicen” to my children before bed, and make Lomo Saltado and Ají de Gallina as regular meals in my house.

I am a Peruvian woman, who grew up in Africa, raising a Canadian daughter, while speaking to her in Spanish and carrying her in a chitenge.

As her mother, I have a responsibility and privilege to introduce her to the culture before her; through the foods I offer her, the songs we sing, the books we read, and the language I speak to her in –  the language of her maternal grandmothers, and their grandmothers, and many generations before them. In all that, I give her a sense of identity, and a feeling that she belongs to the world… to many parts of it.

As I carry my children in either in a Malawian chitenge or a Peruvian manta, I can only hope that through the culture of my motherhood, I am teaching them that they are part of many things. Part of many histories and practices before them, and hoping they feel a part of all of them, and love them as much as I do.