“The _____ on the bus go round and round . . .”
What red-blooded American preschooler would not be able to fill in the gap on that one? Mine. Of course, he’s only half-American, which, I suppose, is a good excuse. But lately I’ve been thinking about the fact that “bilingual” doesn’t necessarily mean “bicultural,” and that he’s missing out on an awful lot of American children’s culture.
Not that this is all bad. I don’t mind, for example, that Pedro wouldn’t recognize a certain purple dinosaur. And while we own three (count ’em!) “Bob the Builder” DVDs imported from the States, I’m glad I didn’t feel pressured to get a Bob theme cake complete with matching paper plates and napkins for his second birthday. Still, I want him and his new baby brother Elías to feel at home in the US, even if they only get to visit there once a year.
So, right now, Pedro watches videotaped “Sesame Street” episodes, and I wax nostalgic about PBS programming from my own youth. “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood.” “The Electric Company.” “The Letter People.” “Zoom.” Friends back home talk about the hits for this generation: “Dora the Explorer,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Thomas the Tank Engine.” While these aren’t available here, the pre-K set is not entirely forgotten. On the five TV stations we get, young viewers can choose from several shows, including dubbed versions of “Tweenies,” “Rugrats,” “Doraemon,” and a few locally-produced gems, all complete with product tie-ins.
There’s no public television, so advertising is rampant, and here as in the US, marketers are relentless in their pursuit of the younger demographic. As the kids get older, their interests become almost indistinguishable from those of kids elsewhere: Harry Potter. McDonalds. PlayStation. Barbie. Sure, they might root for Real Madrid instead of the Yankees (or the Red Sox!), but nowadays most of children’s culture is international — and consumer-driven. Even if I wanted to, I couldn’t keep it all at bay.
Still, culture is more — much more — than just TV and toys. And one benefit of being “out of the loop” is that it makes me have to sit down and consciously choose which American traditions are important enough for me to pass along, since the local culture won’t do any of that teaching for me. So, aside from Big Bird and Bert and Ernie, what else do I want my kids to grow up on?
Well, here’s a list. Mother Goose nursery rhymes. “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.”
Classic children’s books, like Caldecott Medal winners and ones I remember from my own days of story hour at the public library: Make Way For Ducklings. Where the Wild Things Are. The Snowy Day. Caps For Sale.
I want them to be familiar with key bits of American folklore and history. Johnny Appleseed. Paul Bunyan. Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad. Abraham Lincoln composing the Gettysburg Address on the back of a paper bag while riding on a train. Folksongs such as “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad” and “She’ll Be Comin’ Round the Mountain.”
There are things they’ll miss out on, just by virtue of geography and climate. No multicolor autumn leaves to wonder at, then rake into a pile for jumping when they turn brown and fall. No apple picking at a local apple orchard, and later, no snowball fights or making snow angels. But they will have village fiestas in the summertime where they can see people from age eight to eighty dancing to the live music into the wee hours of the night. They’ll have paella for Sunday dinner, and they’ll eat grapes at New Year’s, 12 in rapid succession in time to the chiming of the clock. More fair trades: youth soccer instead of Little League. Dressing up in costume at Carnival instead of Halloween. The Ratoncito Pérez instead of the Tooth Fairy.
Though it’s only natural that at times the local culture will prevail, I will persevere in introducing certain elements to create our own family traditions, like coloring eggs at Easter or making holiday cookies at Christmas. I’ll pass on my grandmother’s gingersnap recipe, as well as a childhood favorite, unheard of here — zucchini bread.
And now that it’s almost Thanksgiving, we’ll make a trip to the tiny American imports store in Madrid for canned pumpkin and cranberry sauce for our own Turkey Day dinner. But that will be after we’ve celebrated All Saint’s Day in the traditional Spanish way, with marzipan Saint’s Bones, baked sweet potatoes, roast chestnuts, and the Catalonian specialty panellets, little cookies made with ground almonds and rolled in pine nuts before baking, which I’ll make with their Spanish grandmother.
All things considered, my kids will have two cultures to draw from, and that’s a lot to be thankful for.