The United States is truly a melting pot. Central Indiana is becoming more diverse each year, bringing richness of experience and culture to our lives. As we celebrate National Immigrant Heritage Month this June, what does it mean for you and your family? What can we learn about our own immigrant heritage? What can we learn from our immigrant neighbors?
We are all immigrants.
Unless you are of Native American heritage, you are either an immigrant or descended from immigrants. Perhaps your ancestors entered Ellis Island in the 1800s from a distant European nation hoping for more freedoms and financial security. Or, your abuela moved from Mexico to the United States with hopes of opportunity and choices. Perhaps you fled violence and economic insecurity in Haiti and moved to the U.S. for a better life. Or, your ancestors were brought here from Africa with no choice in what their new country would look like. No matter the circumstances that made you an immigrant, you are one, nonetheless. Recognizing that we are all immigrants or descendants of immigrants helps us to empathize with the challenges of those who recently arrived here. What do you know about your immigrant history?
Get to know your own immigrant history.
Some of us know our story because we ourselves moved here from another land. Others of us can ask our parents or grandparents to tell us what it was like back home and why they decided to leave. Or, we may need to dig a little deeper. Do you know where your family is from? For example, you may know that your family has a mix of European heritage, some from Austria, maybe some from Ireland and France.
To be quite honest, you may not be fully sure. That is okay! It presents a wonderful opportunity to do some exploring. Build a family tree at ancestry.com, search family names in census records or documents at FamilySearch.org, or try a DNA test at 23andme to get a better idea of where people live (or lived) who share your biology. Share what you find with your kids, then investigate the history and culture of those countries together. Celebrate your unique heritage. The more deeply we are connected with our past, even from a young age, the more we understand ourselves and others. This leads to a more peaceful, interconnected community.
Get to know our immigrant neighbors.
Central Indiana is home to thousands of immigrants. According to 2019 Census data, about 8.8% of Hoosiers speak a language other than English at home. Immigrants make up 5.3% of Indiana’s population and 6% of business owners in Indianapolis. According to the Immigrant Welcome Center, the top countries represented in central Indiana are Mexico, Burma, India, China, El Salvador, Haiti, and Egypt. Hoosiers are blessed with the beauty of diversity that is growing more and more each day.
Put yourself in an immigrant’s shoes.
The resilience that our immigrant neighbors bring to our communities is incredible. Have you ever walked into a room and had no idea what anyone was saying? Have you ever gone to the grocery without finding any of your favorite foods? Learning a new language, navigating a new city, finding a new job, and even eating new foods are HARD! Leaving behind family and friends to venture into the unknown can be unimaginably difficult. Although every immigrant story is different, persistence in the face of challenge is a common trait, one that we can appreciate and learn from.
In addition to their resilience, one of the most exciting parts about being home to a wealth of immigrants is the strengths that they bring from their home cultures – the diversity of thought, customs, cuisine, experiences, and more. These enrich our lives in ways we may never know, making us more well-rounded human beings and bringing us closer together despite our differences. What are some ways that you can enrich your family’s life right here in Central Indiana?
Eat some scrumptious food.
The west side of Indianapolis is home to a multitude of cultures with diverse restaurant and grocery options. What’s on the menu? Pakistani food, Irish cuisine, Senegalese fare. Check out the International Marketplace’s Passport to Indy’s Best Global Cuisine for more information. Take your family to experience something new.
Watch a great movie.
With streaming services, we have the world at our fingertips. Watch a family movie from a culture with which you are not familiar. Search Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Hulu’s collection of international movies. Watch Somebody Feed Phil and travel with your kids to delicious restaurants all around the world or travel along with Molly of Denali on PBS.
Listen to a catchy song.
Listening to music from other countries is a great way to open your children’s eyes to all that is around them. Search Spotify, Pandora, or YouTube for songs in other languages. KPop from South Korea is very popular among American audiences. Many in the United States like to dance to bachata or salsa or vibe to reggaeton. Get down with some grooves, and dance in your socks in the living room to a whole new genre!
Read an interesting book.
Reading to and with your children improves life-long literacy, writing, and communication skills. Reading books about other cultures opens your child’s mind and builds empathy. The local library has a multitude of international kids books to check out, some in English and some in other languages too! Read a book about another culture in your native language together. Look at the pictures of a book that is not in your native language, and ask your child to make inferences about what they think is happening. Or, check out one of many great books specifically about immigration. Get out of your comfort zone and explore together.
Learn a new language.
Language opens doors to the entire world. With your older kiddos, try learning a bit of a new language using free online resources like Duolingo. Practice together, play the games, test each other, and then strengthen your skills by watching a movie or listening to music in the new language. Kids are sponges. Teach them a new language while their brains are soaking everything up!
Combine it all, and travel from home.
Gas is expensive. Plane tickets are even more expensive. Sometimes a family vacation is not in the cards, but you can travel the world from home in just a few steps. Cook or pick up some international food. Choose a movie to watch from that country. Do some artwork or a craft that represents what you saw in the movie. Dance to music from the soundtrack. Read a bedtime story set in the country you explored. Or, check out some of these awesome virtual experiences to allow you to see famous sites throughout the world. You did not leave your house, but your children were immersed in a whole new world.
Most importantly: Reflect.
Talk with your children about your family traditions, where they come from, and why they are important. Have conversations about diversity, the beauty of difference, the challenges immigrants face, and the richness that different cultures bring. Help your child to see the large world around them and to know that all of us are an important part of it.
Looking for resources to support an immigrant in your life? Try one of these!
- Immigrant Welcome Center
- Exodus Refugee
- Catholic Charities
- Grassroots Projects
- Luna Language Services
- And of course: Child Care Answers
Contreras, Natalia E. “These Are Where Indiana’s Immigrant Communities Come From.” The Indianapolis Star. Indianapolis Star, September 9, 2021. https://www.indystar.com/story/news/local/indianapolis/2021/09/09/indiana-immigrant-refugee-population-breakdown/5408782001/.
Graham Melendez, “We are Immigrant Welcome Center” (PowerPoint presented at 2Gen for Indiana Child Care Resource and Referral Network, September 2021)