A family on a beach having their photo taken


How My Daughter Helped Me Rediscover My Parents’ Culture

Sep 27, 2018

When I picked up my daughter from school one day, she motioned to a wall of newly installed welcome signs in various languages.

“Which one is Portuguese?” she asked me.

When I pointed it out, I was surprised at her next question: “Can I learn Portuguese?”

Sure, I told her, so I signed her up for free classes through our local school board and expected she’d learn the basics. What I didn’t expect is how much she’d teach me to rediscover my parents' culture: the food, the language, the music — thanks to my daughter, it now shone bright in our house.

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Growing up, I never really went to Portuguese school. I attended a few classes one Saturday morning a week until I landed a role in the school play that rehearsed at the same time and that was the end of that. I learned the language by listening to my parents and speaking with my grandmother, who lived with us back then.

"What I didn’t expect is how much she’d teach me to rediscover my parent’s culture: the food, the language, the music ...."

But as soon as she started language classes, my daughter was all in. She asked me to start speaking to her in Portuguese from time to time and she actually did her Portuguese school homework without being reminded. She asked my mom to teach her how to cook a few Portuguese dishes and when my dad played the music from his childhood before dinner, she happily danced away, showing off a few moves she had learned during a celebration at Portuguese school.

Soon, she declared that it was her dream to go to Portugal. A few months after that announcement, I was stunned when my daughter burst into tears after we told her that we would be taking a family trip to the small island in the Azores where my dad was born. Her dream had come true, she said.

I would have never thought of doing any of that stuff had she not asked me that one simple question: “Can I learn Portuguese?”

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But there are some drawbacks to my daughter learning Portuguese. I was talking to my dad in Portuguese about something I didn’t want the kids to understand. Then my daughter, who had been watching us intently, chimed in during a pause in the conversation.

“I can understand you,” she said.

"Really?" I asked skeptically. She hadn’t been taking classes for long and I figured most of it was going over her head.

I was wrong. My daughter recounted almost exactly what we were discussing.

“Good job!” my dad said, a proud Portuguese grandfather, before I gently explained to my daughter not to repeat what she had heard.

Before school was out, my daughter declared that she wanted to keep taking lessons. And after hearing her older sister ask me if I signed her up for Portuguese school again, our youngest daughter turned to me and asked me another simple question: “Can I go, too?”

Sure, I told her, why not?

Article Author Kelly Pedro
Kelly Pedro

Read more from Kelly here.

Kelly Pedro is a former journalist turned freelance writer who specializes in writing about education, health and literacy. Her work has appeared in several publications including The London Free Press, The Toronto Star and Today’s Parent. She lives in Kitchener, Ontario with her husband, three children and Juno, the Bernese mountain dog. Connect with Kelly on her website, Twitter, LinkedIn or Alignable.