Tuesday, August 3, 2010

New York missive no 75 - Raising a dobritican

Tomorrow we’re taking JNH to London for a month. He’ll get his first taste of the Britishy side of his heritage – other, that is, than me, and his early encounters with his maternal grandparents. I often wonder how the two sides will play out in him, British and Dominican American. As W commented when we were in Central Park in the scorching 100 degree heat the other day, the reason he coped remarkably well could have been his Dominican blood or his British stiff upper lip. Probably a healthy combination of the two.

In other cases the two influences may pull him in opposite directions. There’s British indirectness in an attempt to avoid conflict at all costs, compared with Dominican directness that accepts conflict is a part of life. A Dominican love of food and the accompanying belief that being gordito equals healthy, compared with a British ambivalence towards food and cautious consumption for fear of getting fat. (That contrast has come up already, when relatives on his Dominican side came round and were excited how fat he’d got and I felt myself cringing thinking he was growing too big too fast, which was rather ridiculous given he was only a few weeks old). And there are traits stemming no doubt from the countries’ colonial experiences, a British gung-ho optimism - close affiliate of the stiff upper lip -compared with a Dominican tendency to pessimism.

That’s to generalize dramatically of course. In C and I’s personalities we each have elements of the other’s national stereotypes, and JNH will have a unique combination of his own – just like so many other kids here in Astoria: American, of mixed parentage. And arguably a bigger difference between C and my backgrounds than ethnicity and nationality is economic. I grew up in a terraced house near the river Thames then a leafy London suburb never worrying about not having enough money to get by (even if my parents did have stressful financial periods), where it seemed nothing was wanting. While C, moving from apartment to apartment in Washington Heights, saw his recently-immigrated Mum worrying if they would have enough to get through the week, and Dad counting on his bed each night the money he’d made from his taxi-rounds.

Being a parent resuscitates childhood. Not only by seeing through the eyes of a child again but also the vivid memories it generates of our own childhoods and the ways those influence our child-rearing.


Downtown Hartfield, Connecticut at the weekend – you can feel the sleep. The streets are deserted and all the shops and restaurants are closed. We were there for a wedding. Which was a lot of fun, but hanging out in the town waiting for our train the next day made us keen to get back to New York asap. The town had all the characteristics of a commercial center that has known highs, and lows, and highs, and now another low. There were lots of empty office buildings with their blank-staring windows. The only places open were Subway, Burger King and Dunkin’ Donuts. One of the tracks at the train station was closed. We emerged on Sunday evening at Grand Central and hooray! Life! Lots of it.