Grandparents as Living Libraries

Ostensibly, my sons and I traveled from Boston to the San Francisco Bay Area this past weekend to celebrate Baba's birthday.

That's what I told people, anyway.

But the truth is that these regular trips to Didu and Dadu's house -- note the open door and my Dad waiting on the porch -- are a shortcut to keeping my heritage alive in the next generation.

The best part is that it's never forced. Bengali music constantly plays in the background. Ma lavishes them with her fresh-cooked specialties, and the boys are always free to eat with their fingers as they would if they were in Kolkata. Baba tells them stories about his high school days, and we laugh at his jokes. Both my parents forget and speak Bangla as if the boys understand it, and I watch in amazement as sometimes they seem to.

Like me, authors Edwidge Danticat (Haiti), Junot Diaz (Dominican Republic), and Salma Ali (India), came to the U.S.A. as children. As part of NPR's series on the children of immigrants, they reflect on the "transformation of immigrants in America as the next generation assimilates." Danticat reminds us of the power of grandparents, which our family experiences each time we visit California:
Do you have older living relatives who, in addition to everything they represent, also represent a culture that we're no longer living in? So having these sort of living libraries, I think, is important to this next generation.
It's clear that North American older adults of all races and cultures are an untapped source for young people struggling with identity and self-esteem issues. In a culture that divides seniors and teens, it seems daunting to connect the generations. Perhaps stories told by newer Americans like Danticat, Diaz, and Ali are uniquely able to inspire and inform our communities in this challenge.