Who needs heritage anyway, right?

USZA

Yesterday was heritage day in South Africa. It’s basically used an excuse to braai (grill/BBQ) because that’s the only thing that everyone in South Africa seems to share as common heritage. Some people embrace their individual heritages, with Afrkaans people delighting in an excuse to eat Melktart or English people… um, colonizing all the room in the shopping centers? I’m not 100% sure, but basically it’s one of those public holidays here that everyone happily takes advantage of as an excuse to make fire, hang out with friends/family and generally enjoy a day off.

People have been asking me and Dean about how we will raise Harley, though. I mean, she’ll grow up here in South Africa, so she’ll probably have a South African accent with the exception of the odd words that she only really hears from me. But heritage is about more than an accent, it’s about knowing where you come from. Of course, with international parents, that’s a bit more complicated.

Where do we start the story and what do we teach her about her ancestral background? Dean is endlessly amused by the fact that my great-grandfather was a bare-knuckle boxer in Brooklyn back in the day, so I’m sure she’ll hear about that. And he never misses a chance to point out that his family sort of descends from gypsies before they came to South Africa. But what about all our time spent in Europe? I’ve adopted plenty of customs as a result of my time traveling and living overseas – does that count as heritage? Plus, America has changed so much since I lived there – I barely even recognize my hometown of New York City sometimes. I mean, it’s familiar, but it’s also so, so different from the NYC I grew up in.

I suppose it’s more about the family traditions that Dean and I have created, informed by… whatever they’re informed by. We have our traditional weekend breakfasts, or our preferred weekend activities, or the films, books and games that strike a specific chord with us. I suppose that will be where Harley can draw her heritage from – she doesn’t need to know about her family history in New York, or where her great-great-grandparents came ashore in South Africa. She will know where she comes from because Dean and I will be around to tell her funny stories about when we were growing up. The rest of it, I guess, will be passed down subconsciously as she hopefully learns my family emphases on sarcasm. That’s totally a heritage to be proud of. Right?

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  • This was an interesting post for me, because even though we are both black my husband and I have completely different cultural background. I personally think in each culture there is so much to celebrate and enjoy and i am using this day as an opportunity to expose my sons to both their Zulu cultural heritage and Setswana, I think it enriches their lives 🙂

    • Zoe

      That’s awesome – I’d love to come celebrate with your family, sounds so cool! The more I’ve thought about it, the more I wonder what we can celebrate on Heritage Day to make her understand her SA heritage, and then I can teach her about America on the 4th of July and/or Thanksgiving. But her real cultural background will probably be a cool collage made up of everything we expose her to.