6 Ways to Teach Your Kids their Assyrian Heritage
Culture is a defining piece of an individual’s identity, shaping how they see themselves and the groups with which they identify. Every community, cultural group or ethnic group has its own values, beliefs, and ways of living. Observable aspects of culture like food, clothing, celebrations, and religion are only parts of a person’s cultural heritage. The shared values, customs, and histories related to a culture shape the way a person thinks, behaves, and interprets the world. Cultural heritage serves as the thread that ties members of the group together and creates a sense of belonging.
As Assyrian families assimilate into the American way of life, many families gradually discard their cultural customs in favor of new traditions. The number of first- and second-generation Assyrian Americans continues to grow in the United States, and its important that they be taught their families’ heritage, in addition to their new country’s traditions. Here are some ways to teach your children about their heritage, even if you’re far from home:
- Start with the older generations.
Grandparents, aunts and uncles, and other family members who are originally from the homeland can offer a wealth of information about culture and their native country. Suggest that your child—even the younger ones—interview these relatives, asking questions about where they grew up, the cultural foods they ate, the traditions they practiced, and the games they played, and the holidays they celebrated. Jedo and Nana would surely appreciate the interest, and likely have incredible stories to share. After the interview, discuss which of these traditions your family might be able to carry on. Here’s an interview we did earlier this year with an 83-year old Simele Massacre survivor. (Warning: You may need tissues.)
- Share traditional dishes.
One of the easiest ways to learn about a culture is to indulge in its most popular dishes. Try to incorporate Assyrian dishes into your family’s meals, if you don’t already. Teach your kids a favorite family recipe—you’re guaranteed to make memories that may last a lifetime. Find great recipes online at Assyrian Kitchen. Also, consider trying an Assyrian restaurant. As your kids enjoy the food, spend time talking about what distinguishes Assyrian cuisine from other foods. Larsa’s Mediterranean Restaurant is a local favorite.
- Attend Assyrian cultural events and visit local museums. Many Assyrian organizations in diaspora hold cultural events celebrating Assyria, often around special holidays like Akitu—the Assyrian New Year. These events provide the ideal opportunity for Assyrian children to learn about their culture as they dance to the music, try different foods, and see native costumes worn and on display. If you’re in the Chicago area, a trip to the Oriental Institute is a must: the Assyria Collection will leave any young one in awe of their history. Check out photos from our students’ recent field trip to the OI.
- Keep traditions alive.
It is possible to incorporate some popular Assyrian traditions for your family today. Research Assyrian cultural practices and identify those that might fit with your family’s lifestyle. Make Assyrian Martyrs Day mandatory in your household. Play Assyrian music in the car. Make kilecheh for Christmas every year. Try an Assyrian-themed arts and crafts activity around Akitu. The possibilities are endless.
- Use books and films to help educate.
Stop by the Ashurbanipal Library here at AUAF to find many books that can help teach children about Assyrian culture and history. There are books appropriate even for young children. Encourage your teenagers to choose books that focus on Assyrians—perhaps for their next school book report. We’ve also got a ton of DVDs, including informative documentaries—some are a bit dated, but still worthwhile. We’ve also got pretty much every Assyrian CD (and cassette tape!) ever released.
- Learn the language. Assyrians who’ve emigrated from the homeland are likely already teaching their children the Assyrian language. But kids in later generations may not learn the language of their ancestors. There are many benefits of learning other languages. Learning new languages makes children smarter and more creative, it helps them become more observant and perceptive, and of course, it fosters cultural understanding. Speak the language at home. Take advantage of wonderful resources like Rinyo or Julia Sorisho Rodgers‘s children’s books. Register your kids for a local Assyrian language class—they’ll probably fight you on this one, but they’ll thank you years from now. In Chicago, the Assyrian National Council of Illinois offers language courses for students of all ages.