12 AAPI Parents on Raising Kids With Cultural Pride

Raising Kids With AAPI Cultural Pride

Verywell / Photo Illustration by Christian Alzate

For our Perspectives series, we are interviewing AAPI parents from around the country on how they’re raising kids with cultural pride.

Any parent can tell you that raising kids to be kind, respectful, self-sufficient people is a serious undertaking. For many families, part of that parental responsibility includes teaching children to be proud of where they come from. That’s certainly important to many parents in the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community, so we asked Asian American parents from around the country about how they’re raising their kids to have cultural pride.

The AAPI community in the United States is incredibly diverse, so it’s no surprise that these answers are equally so. Some parents struggle with cultural isolation, others with shame and stereotyping. Many are parenting mixed-race children, which brings its own challenges and nuances. But over and over, we hear them say that family and community are everything. That, and Lunar New Year is where it’s at. Read on for their thoughtful and heartfelt advice, so much of which applies to all parents.

Sarah Park Dahlen

Sarah Park Dahlen

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Sarah Park Dahlen

Partner: Jeff Dahlen

Age: 42

Location: Minneapolis, MN

Occupation: Associate Professor

Kids' Ages: 8

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

We openly talk about being Korean and what it means in our life—both the good stuff (we love our food!) and the harder stuff (anti-Asian racism) and everything in between (Korean and Asian diasporic history, etc). Since I am an Asian American youth literature scholar, we have a lot of Asian American children's books at home that we read together. Our daughter is also enrolled in Korean language classes and Korean dance and drumming classes—and she enjoys them!

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

The biggest challenge is the white supremacist environment that keeps telling us that our stories are less-than, that we are not as beautiful, that keep treating us as other. We were very intentional to have in our home only dolls with brown eyes and brown hair, but once our daughter went to daycare, she started talking about Elsa and that she wanted to have blonde hair and blue eyes. So even though we did everything in our power to instill a sense of pride in our daughter, the messaging from the environment was that strong.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

I grew up with the Korean New Year (we celebrated on Jan. 1 since everyone actually got that day off, whereas we didn't get the actual lunar days off) being my family's most important holiday, and my husband and I are passing that down to our daughter. It's especially important to me because it links us to my parents and grandparents, and we celebrate with them when we go home to Los Angeles. Before COVID-19, we hosted a traditional Korean New Year celebration at our home in Minnesota on Jan. 1 and invited our closest friends—both Korean and non-Korean. We hope to do that again starting next year.

Betina Hsieh

Betina Hsieh

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Betina Hsieh

Occupation: Associate Professor, Teacher Education

Kids’ Ages: 6 and 15

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

My son (15) studied Mandarin, one of our heritage languages, in school for nine years, and we talk about what it means to be Asian American regularly. For my daughter (6), we mainly read picture books to connect with Taiwanese American or other Asian American experiences and use those to foster conversations.

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

Our family is multi-racial and multi-ethnic, so the biggest challenge for me has been trying to help my children be proud of all of who they are, in spite of a culture that often tries to put them in a single box. It’s also been hard for me because both my parents have passed away, and I wasn’t raised with a strong direct knowledge of my cultural roots, so I’ve had to construct those ties while also trying to raise my children with them.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

Drawing from both my Taiwanese and Asian American cultures, I hope my children understand that resilience and resistance often look different than how others might think or how it might be portrayed in popular media. Our strength and ability to persevere come from both internally being grounded in who we are and through family, community, and solidarity with other communities. We belong to one another. When others may not understand who we are, we have to stand strong in knowing who and whose we are.

Carol Nguyen Leon Guerrero

Carol Nguyen Leon Guerrero

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Carol Nguyen Leon Guerrero

Partner: Joey Leon Guerrero

Age: 38

Location: Grovetown, GA

Occupation: 5th Grade Teacher

Kids' Ages: 17

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

I keep my son connected to his heritage by bringing a part of home wherever we go and never forgetting where we come from. I am Vietnamese by nationality but grew up on the island of Guam where my son was born. Guam is far from Georgia, so we try to bring the island out here by keeping our heritage alive with language, recipes from home, and remembering to keep the "Hafa Adai" Islander spirit of hospitality alive. I also share my Vietnamese heritage with my family through the love of Asian dishes originating from Vietnam.

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

The biggest challenge in raising a child who is proud of their roots is being so far away from home. My son is very much proud of where he comes from, and it is difficult when he can't visit often to make those roots even stronger.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

The most important cultural value I want to pass down to my son is to always put family first. At the end of the day, it comes down to the love we show our own family. Despite how chaotic the world can get, love starts at home. If we get love from home, we can then go out there and share those same values and beliefs to encourage, educate and inspire others to do the same.

Maria Wen Adcock

Maria Wen Adcock

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Maria Wen Adcock

Partner: Matthew Adcock

Age: 49

Location: Long Island, NY

Occupation: Writer

Kids' Ages: 7 and 13

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

We provide our children with books about their Chinese American heritage. Sometimes the text is bilingual, the characters are Chinese, or the storyline features Chinese culture. We also celebrate Chinese holidays and teach our kids the traditions. In fact, I founded the blog BiculturalMama.com and wrote a picture book, It's Chinese New Year, Curious George (launching this fall) so that all children can learn about Chinese culture.

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

One of the biggest challenges is keeping their Chinese heritage as part of their everyday lives when they're not surrounded by it. Their Chinese relatives live in another state, and in our town, there are not a lot of Chinese families. As such, we must go more out of our way to expose them to Chinese culture, whether this means traveling further to attend Chinese festivals or learning the Chinese language via a specialty school or online.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

We encourage our children to take pride in their heritage and tell them that family always comes first. The beautiful thing is that they can see these same values in the lives of their diverse friends. Though the specific traditions may differ, many cultures embrace these universal values.

Akshata Nayak

Akshata Nayak

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Akshata Nayak

Partner: Gregory Giasson

Age: 40

Location: Jericho, VT

Occupation: Owner, Little Patakha

Kids' Ages: 4

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

I started my company, Little Patakha, to keep my daughter close to her heritage, creating books to help her—and other kids—learn the Indian languages of Hindi and Konkani in an interactive way. Staying connected with my family back home in India has also been an important way for me to keep my daughter rooted in her heritage. Each person brings something different to the relationship, whether it is language, tradition, or food, making conversations about all these her “normal” and something she can share with others.  

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

As an immigrant, I want to make sure that nervousness or embarrassment about certain aspects of our identity is not passed on to my child. When you first move to a different country, you immediately notice things about yourself that stand out, and, in many ways, you try to blend in. It has taken me decades to become comfortable with myself and in my story, in a new country that I made my home. I want to make sure that my daughter feels nothing but pride in herself no matter where she lives or what she does—knowing that our differences make us more vibrant.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

My native language, Konkani, and food are both my comforts and strong aspects of my identity. These are what I hope to pass down as well as I can to my daughter. I find fun ways to converse with my daughter in Konkani, I teach her songs, and we cook together. In fact, her teacher has told me that while other kids make toast and similar meals in their pretend kitchen at school, my daughter makes them dosas (Indian crepes) and dals (lentil dishes).

Molly Wang

Molly Wang

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Molly Wang

Partner: Jesse

Age: 37

Location: Austin, TX

Occupation: Licensed Mental Health Therapist

Kids' Ages: 15 months

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

My son is half-Chinese. At home, we stay connected through stories and food. To me, the stories we tell our kids about their grandparents and ancestors connect them to their past. My son is 15 months old, and while he doesn’t understand everything I say yet, I try to keep the stories I tell him at bedtime and during our walks consistent and tell them in a mix of English and Chinese, so I know he will eventually put all the story pieces together as his language skills develop.

We also enjoy traditional Chinese foods during holidays such as Lunar New Year, and I involve him in making the food as well! I also try to stay connected to the wider Chinese community in Austin and take him to cultural events. Just being surrounded by other people that look like him and speak Chinese normalizes his heritage as something that is accessible since we live in an area of the city that does not have a strong Chinese community, like Houston or Dallas.

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

Since my son is biracial (white and Chinese), I worry that he’ll start to value his white side over his Chinese background as he gets older because our culture and society value whiteness. I worry he’ll internalize racial stereotypes of Asian men which will negatively affect his self-esteem, a dynamic I see often when working with Asian male clients.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

Never forgetting your roots and honoring family and ancestors. Since my son was born, I started observing a Chinese holiday called Qingming Festival. In China, this is the day when people would visit ancestral tombs and sweep to clean them. Since our ancestral tombs are in China, and COVID-19 has made it nearly impossible to travel there with a 15-month-old, I set up an ancestral shrine in our family room with pictures of his great-grandparents. We sit together, and I tell him his birth story, except I start with stories of his great-grandparents and eventually how I immigrated to the U.S. I want him to grow up thinking about himself as a person situated in time and history.

Lisa An Wong

Lisa An Wong

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Lisa An Wong

Partner: David N.

Age: 41

Location: Chicago, IL

Occupation: Director, Bank of Montreal Wealth Management

Kids' Ages: 13

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

I make sure my son speaks to my mom every day. We visit China with tourist stops in Asia every year, similar to when I was growing up. I celebrate Asian holidays with my son and have a Chinese name for him.

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

My biggest challenge is when my son is proud that he is Chinese but he doesn't look like it and other kids who have two Chinese parents question his roots. It is only when he shows them a picture of me that they believe him.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

Respect others, especially elders. And Lunar New Year traditions, as they are very vibrant and create a happy mood for the new year.

Jean Tien

Jean Tien

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Jean Tien

Age: 45

Location: New York, NY

Occupation: Founder/Creator of The S.U.C.C.E.S.S. Method

Kids' Ages: 6 and 11

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

My children are the byproduct of interracial marriage. My husband is Sri Lankan, and I am Chinese. We connect our children to their heritage through family, food, and also videos/movies about Asia. We also share stories from our childhood about our heritage so that they can feel a closer connection with it. We had hoped to also travel with them to Sri Lanka, Taiwan, and China in 2020 (and more often), but with the pandemic, we haven't been able to travel with them to these locations.

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

My biggest challenge in raising children who are proud of their roots is to give them an experience that will help them create a deeper connection with and a genuine appreciation of their roots. Everything they know of their ancestry is either theoretical or filtered through an American lens since they've never had an immersive experience in Asia to learn its history, its culture, and its beauty.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

My biggest goal for my children is to help them be proud of their past. I want them to not only find acceptance of their differences but also to embrace them and use them to hoist themselves up when others are trying to knock them down. I'd also love for them to carry forward our Chinese New Year traditions with their own children and future generations.

Amy Fry

Amy Fry

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Amy Fry

Partner: Larry Fry

Age: 45

Location: Prince George's County, MD

Occupation: Community Advocate

Kids' Ages: 7 and 10

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

Frequent exposure to our cultural heritage is the main way we keep our children connected to their roots. We celebrate many of the Korean holidays, including Seollal (Lunar New Year) and Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving), and birthdays with traditional foods and practices. Our children dress up in their hanbok for appropriate holidays. Connection is about adding traditional activities and practices to our every day and observing them in ways that celebrate the special things we do that may be different from our neighbors. 

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

The biggest challenge to raising children who are proud of their roots is teaching them that pride doesn't mean putting down other cultures or traditions. We are all special in our own ways, and while we celebrate our own roots, it is so important to be open to learning about other cultures and allowing others to find pride in their roots, too.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

The most important cultural value and tradition I want to pass down to my children is the importance of community and communal values and pride and the celebration of our Korean heritage.

Phyllis Myung

Phyllis Myung

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Phyllis Myung

Partner: Roger

Age: 45

Location: Boston, MA

Occupation: Pastor

Kids’ Ages: 12

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

I think food is an easy way to keep kids connected to their heritage. We are lucky to live in an area where Korean food is accessible to us, as well as an H-Mart, so we can get ingredients. I also think grandparents are a great way to keep kids connected. Their relationship with their grandparents and even great-grandmother has been vital. I also think culturally, we have been really into K-pop as a family and that has helped us not only explore the language but the culture of our Korean heritage. Finally, traveling to Korea was a huge experience in impacting that desire to be connected!

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

Honestly, the biggest challenge is myself. I didn’t grow up proud of my heritage and did a lot to try not to be very Korean. That shame is something that still lingers at times, and I wonder if it gets expressed to my daughter. I also think that it helps that Korean culture and food are much more accepted now in the United States.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

I think there are two things—one is the idea of being a part of something, a collective. We are not just individuals, but we are a part of each other and we all belong to one another. The other idea is the idea of jeong. There is not an English equivalent to this word, but it is love, attachment, fondness, closeness, and being connected. These are the beautiful things of Korean culture that I hope to pass down to my daughter.

Rowena Scherer

Rowena Scherer

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Rowena Scherer

Partner: Joshua Scherer

Age: 53

Location: New York, NY

Occupation: Entrepreneur

Kids’ Ages: 15 and 18

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

Since the kids are young, we celebrate both Chinese (Chinese New Year, Chinese Spring Festival, Moon Festival) and American celebrations (Easter, Thanksgiving, Christmas Eve) with a big feast among friends and family. My kids have been learning the Chinese language since they were young. We also go back to Asia every few years to make sure they stay connected.

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

My challenge has always been to find ways to include my kids’ friends and their families in appreciating my Chinese culture. I believe that to make my kids comfortable growing up in a mixed-race family is to be socially comfortable with their friends from both cultures.

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

The importance of family values with annual Chinese New Year celebrations, Christmas caroling, and more.

Avani Modi Sarkar

Avani Modi Sarkar

Verywell / Photo Illustration by Christian Alzate / A Candid Affair

Avani Modi Sarkar

Partner: Avik Sarkar

Age: 38

Location: New Jersey 

Occupation: Co-founder, Modi Toys

Kids' Ages: 5, 2, and 7 months

How Do You Keep Your Kids Connected to Their Heritage?

I try to incorporate heritage into our daily lives, as opposed to only "reserving" it for special occasions and holidays. Our heritage touches so many parts of our day—whether it's the prayer we sing in the car on the way to school, the Indian lunch I pack for school, the plush toys they play with at home, the shows they watch on TV, or the books they read at bedtime. 

What Is Your Biggest Challenge in Raising a Child Who Is Proud of Their Roots?

Pride is something we can model for our children. If they see us embracing our roots with excitement, it naturally encourages them to do the same. For example, my daughters see how much joy it brings me to dress up in Indian clothes, and as a result, they have also developed a fondness for dressing up in traditional outfits when the occasion calls for it. 

What Is the Most Important Cultural Value, Belief, or Tradition You Want to Pass Down?

I was raised by fairly religious parents, but it was one of those things I never quite appreciated until I became a mom. Although the manner in which I practice my faith differs compared from theirs, it's important to me to pass it down to my children. Thanks to faith-based toys like Baby Ganesh, my children can now form a relationship with God based on love and friendship, not just reverence and respect. 

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2 Sources
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  1. American Psychological Association. Countering stereotypes about Asian Americans.

  2. Britannica. Lunar New Year.