The way I see it, there are two key things that have shaped our belief that we truly are citizens of the world: Birth and Choice.
My ancestors hailed from Italy, Ireland, France, Czechoslovakia (back in the day when that was a single country!) and Germany. Jon's family came from Poland, Italy, Germany and Czechoslovakia. Our children were born in Ethiopia. Though we all now live in the beautiful mosaic that is the United States, at our births we were each gifted with our initial introduction to culture, as well as the traditions that those cultures hold dear.
As we grew and learned and began interacting with the world around us, we started making choices about what aspects of culture (both the cultures we were born with, and those we had the privilege of learning about) we wanted to embrace within our own lives. When Jon and I adopted the twins, we made a very conscious choice to become a multicultural family and open ourselves up to the remarkable possibilities that choice presented us with.
Even before we had children, Jon and I shared an interest in the world, and a passion for learning about other cultures. At our wedding, the tables where our guests were seated were named after the various countries we hoped to eventually travel to. Each table card also listed wedding traditions and superstitions from each of the countries. Our actual wedding ceremony included some of those traditions, as well as readings and symbols from several different places.
These days, our choice to embrace global citizenship is reflected in several concrete ways:
1. The community that we live in:
The city that we live in, and our neighborhood within that city, is extremely diverse (racially, culturally, economically, linguistically, and religiously). I love that I can walk down the street and hear several different languages being spoken. I love that there are entire aisles devoted to foods around the world at my local (mainstream) grocery store. It's important to me that my children regularly see faces that are both similar to them, and different from them. And it's important to me that I have opportunities for cultural exchange between these varied communities.
2. The foods that we eat:
Jon and I are vegetarians. We are also raising our children as vegetarians (at least until they are able to make an informed choice about what path they want to follow.) That said, we *love* good food. When we first became vegetarian, our choices for creating healthy and complete meals were pretty limited, so we began looking around the globe for meal inspiration. In many countries and cultures, people eat vegetarian diets out of necessity or for religious reasons. Taking inspiration from these places, our family has developed an "eating style" that can best be described as "World Vegetarian".
We are exceptionally lucky to live in a city where we can get amazing vegetarian food from nearly anywhere in the world. Our "go to" list includes Middle Eastern Food, 6 different Ethiopian restaurants, Thai, Dim Sum, Greek, Crepes, Vegan Soul Food, Vegan Korean food, Mexican, Cuban, Costa Rican, and Spanish Tapas, Maki, one of the largest concentrations of Indian restaurants in the country, Vegetarian Jewish Comfort Food, and several places that work wonders with Seitan (to name just a few!). We also regularly attempt to recreate our favourite meals in our own kitchen.
One of the things we decided before our kids came home was that they were not going to eat just "kid food". We take them to restaurants, expect them to behave themselves (which, for the most part, they do), and let them try new things. As a result, they regularly ask for things like pine nuts, shu mai, sun dried tomatoes, bleu cheese, injera, dumplings, etc. They love fresh lemons, and spicy foods don't put them off at all. As an added bonus, we've found that food and restaurants can provide an easy access point and bridge to different cultures. This has sparked many interesting conversations.
3. The music that we listen to:
Putumayo, but we also listen to a lot of musicians from around the world. Here's a small sampling:
4. The images and artifacts that we display in our home:
We've made a very specific effort to decorate our home with images and art that reflects a diversity of cultures, skin tones, and lifestyles. We have photographs from our travels, masks from Costa Rica, sculptures from Bali, Ethiopia, Ghana and Togo, wall hangings from China, textiles from India, paintings from Spanish artists.
The kids have a map of the world in their bedroom, and a clock in the shape of Africa. They can identify the continents, know several different countries, and love to speculate as to where the planes we often see overhead are flying.
5. The products that we buy:
Our consciousness in choosing products also extends to:
We try very hard to be conscious consumers, especially as we understand that the globalization of the economy can often take advantage of people with less social, political and economic power. We also strive to be environmentally conscious in our purchases, preferring to spend our money on items crafted from sustainable resources. Finally, we love to support artists and artisans around the world, and have found websites like Novica to be great resources. And, if you're ever in Costa Rica, Galeria Namu in San Jose is an incredible store with a remarkable mission.
6. The clothes that we wear:
It's no secret that Tea Collection makes our favourite children's clothing. From the moment that I heard that Tea Collection's motto is "clothing for little citizens of the world", I was hooked. I was delighted to discover the fun patterns, vibrant colours, and unique global style of Tea clothing. I love that they offer a wide variety of mix and match play clothes that wear and wash beautifully, as well as a line of dressier clothes for special occasions. This is a very cool company whose philosophy is perfectly in line with our lifestyle!
In fact, the very first item of clothing that I bought for my daughter was a pink knit Tea Collection dress. Though it's now packed away with the hope of handing down to my future grandchildren, that little dress remains one of my favourite things I've ever purchased!
To reflect the twins' Ethiopian culture, we love our Amharic Tees shirts, which pair images with the Amharic, Phonetic, and English spellings of the images depicted.
7. The books and magazines that we read:
For children, we love Barefoot Books, which "began with two mothers who wanted their children to have books that would feed their imagination, while instilling a respect for diversity and a love of the planet". The books Barefoot carries are all beautifully illustrated, thoughtfully written stories that span a broad age range and inspire kids (and their parents) to learn about other cultures.
As far as adult reading material goes, I personally read a lot of books and blogs about Race, Culture, and how to live my life in an intentionally anti-racist way. (I'm hoping to devote an entire blog entry to this topic in the future, so that's all I'll say on that for the moment). However, there are a couple of magazines that I love:
Afar is a new travel magazine that helps readers distill essential and authentic experiences in countries around the world. It's inspirational, the photographs are absolutely breathtaking, and the human stories found within the pages remind us of our interconnection. In particular, I love the recipes, recommendations, interviews with locals, and recommendations for "travel with a purpose".
Ode Magazine provides news with a global perspective "about the people and ideas that are changing our world for the better". It's helped me to understand how others around the world are defining problems and coming up with innovative solutions.
We also keep a copy of The Travel Book out and easily accessible so that we can flip through it, learn about different countries, and dream about future travels.
8. The toys that we play with:
Again, we try to buy heirloom quality toys made from sustainable resources. We love Haba, who makes lots of really cool toys, including sets of blocks that reflect various cultures (Middle Eastern, Egyptian, Ancient Greek, Russian, etc.) Another company we love is eeBoo, who does a fantastic job echoing both cultural and environmental diversity in their puzzles, games, and other products.
We also own several geography games, and have bookmarked quite a few websites that teach geography related lessons, or offer fun games with an awareness of global issues. Favourites include Free Rice, a vocabulary game that donates rice for every correct answer, and this Geography game that works along the same lines but donates clean water to those who don't have it.
9. The causes that we contribute to:
I mentioned in the post regarding teaching our children about money that it's our intention to introduce them to charitable giving, and we plan to do this on a global scale. We're teaching our children that it's a good thing to give to those who don't have as much as we do. By instilling this value in them, and getting them into the habit of generousity from a young age, we hope this sets the stage for a lifetime of compassion for others. I also want to make it clear that our idea of contributions don't necessarily have to be monetary. We also think it's important to volunteer our time and collect donations. We believe in giving what we can.
Specific organizations that we love include Kiva, Ethiopia Reads, The Global Fund For Children, and Doctors / Engineers Without Borders (though there are many, many fantastic organizations out there working for social justice in a myriad of specific areas, and we encourage everyone to find a cause that resonates with you!).
10. The friends that we have:
We are lucky to have friends from all over the world. This international community has provided us with perspective on issues such as politics, education, healthcare, and globalization. We've had many interesting conversations and several healthy debates with our friends, which all help to broaden our worldviews.
Many of our friends have been touched by international and / or transracial adoption. We've involved ourselves in social groups with other families who resemble ours (in that the members of their families don't physically look alike) and even started a cultural playgroup to help our children learn about their Ethiopian heritage.
11. The events that we attend:
Museum of Science and Industry to name just a few. Each of these events is yet another access point for us to begin conversations with our children about our world.
12. The things that we watch:
Izzie & Elijah's favourite television show is Charlie and Lola. For those who might not be familiar with the show, the main characters are a English brother and sister who have all sorts of adventures and try lots of different things. We love this show for many reasons: it's fun, imaginative, and fairly realistic in its interpretation of the day to day challenges that young children can face. I find it adorable that my children have picked up British colloquialisms and accents, but the thing that truly won my heart is the diversity that's reflected in each episode. For example, when Lola wants to learn how to dance, she attempts Indian dancing, Russian dancing, and several other types of dance from cultures around the world. I'm excited and heartened that this approach is presented as "the norm".
Another thing we love to do is take advantage of the DVD resources at our local library to learn about other cultures. Just this week we rented a video that explores the different types of bread eaten around the world. With interlibrary loan, the possibilities for what we can learn are truly limitless!
Jon and I don't watch a whole lot of television, but we both love the show LOST. I don't think it's any coincidence that LOST is truly the first series that features a global cast, and has scenes set in several different countries around the world.
13. The places that we travel:
Travel is extremely important to me for cultural exchange as well as a means to gain perspective. I have been to 14 different countries and hope to take the twins on both domestic and international vacations as well as service trips as they get older.
We've made a point of traveling with our children because we feel it's important for them to become comfortable in a variety of settings. We want them to develop flexibility, compassion, curiousity and, above all, respect for the global community that we are all a part of. I adore watching my children explore the planet and, through that exploration, discover who they are!
I want my children to see how other people live because I hope that those experiences will inspire them in their own lives. Whether that inspiration comes in the form of wanderlust, educational exchange, humanitarian giving / volunteering, art, or something else entirely, I can't think of any better muse than this beautiful world of ours!
14. The traditions that we celebrate:
Both Jon and I entered into our relationship with ideas of how we wanted to celebrate special occasions and events in our lives. Many of these ideas came from our own families of origin, but as we began building a life together, we've come across other people's beautiful traditions that we've chosen to incorporate into our own lives. Here are a couple of examples:
Birthday Ring is a German tradition used to celebrate and symbolize the passing of years in a child's life. We began this tradition in our home on Isabel and Elijah's third birthday.
Kwanzaa, the Nguzo Saba, or seven principles, are values that have easily meshed with our worldviews. We've begun celebrating Kwanzaa, and our children anticipate our "Kwanzaa time, family time" just as much as they anticipate birthdays, Christmas, or other holidays.
Enkutatash is the celebration of the Ethiopian New Near, which falls annually on September 11. Enkutatash has a special personal relevance to our family, as it also marks the day that we recieved our children's Certificates of Citizenship, legally acknowledging that our little citizens of the world are now also little citizens of the United States of America!
15. The languages that we speak:
We have made a conscious effort to begin learning to speak Amharic - the national language of our children's birth country. Our children can count and say basic vocabulary words in at least 5 languages, and regularly hear other languages spoken. Whenever we travel internationally, we try to learn at least some words in the language of the country we're visiting. All of this helps to reinforce the idea that we respect people from other countries enough to want to communicate with them in their language. Perhaps our children will grow up to be multilingual. Maybe not. Either way, I'm happy to start the ball rolling and see where it ends up!
To us, being good global citizens involves actively seeking out opportunities for cultural exchange and understanding. It means developing compassion for others, an awareness of global issues, and an appreciation for all of the little things that make each of us unique. It also means standing up for social justice and taking action to alleviate conditions that lead to poverty and oppression. Finally, it means good stewardship of the environment, which we will hand down to our children, and our children's children for generations to come.
We hope that through our specific and conscious actions and choices, we are providing our children with a wide variety of mentors, inspirational figures, and people to look up to across a wide variety of cultures, life experiences, and abilities. We believe that it is important to teach our children how to sit comfortably with difference without needing to categorize that difference into "better than" or "worse than". Ultimately, we hope that we are helping our children to develop a respect for *all* cultures, and teaching them that while others may live their lives very differently than we do, we are all still human, and therefore, inherently valuable.