Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Sharing Our Roots - an Interview with Vinita Salome

If you don't already know Vinita Salome, let me introduce you. Vinita is a photographer. Well, actually she's not just any photographer. She's an exceptional talent behind a camera lens. She specialises in capturing the essence of families and children and creates atmospheric memories to treasure. I should know because I have a host of such pictures hanging on my wall.

Vinita is an expat here in the Netherlands with an interesting background. She was born and raised in Japan and went  back to her roots when she moved to India aged seventeen.

She now lives in the Dutch city of Gouda, where her son was born six years ago. Her son has Dutch and Indian nationality and Vinita thinks it is important that he grows up with an understanding of the countries she grew up and lived in. Vinita explains why,

"We have family in both India and Japan. My brother lives in Japan and is married to a Japanese lady and together they have a daughter. My mother lives in India."

Vinita learnt how to share the culture and traditions of the country she was born in and the country of her family roots by turning back to her own childhood and remembering how her parents shared her roots with her,

"My mother cooked delicious Indian food, we spoke Sindhi (one of the Indian languages) and English at home, and learnt Japanese when we lived there.  We were part of an Indian club where festivals were celebrated and children took part in the celebrations. We had Indian neighbours. We visited India almost every summer and met our extended family."

So Vinita is well prepared to teach her son about Japan and India. She too shares her culture and past with her son through food and language.

"I cook a mix of Asian foods, leaning towards Japanese street food. I cook mostly stir fried food and buy a lot of Japanese ingredients from the Asian supermarkets. I only cook Indian friends visit although I love to eat it. I speak to my son in Japanese when Japanese friends are around, and when I have my Indian friends here we speak together in English. In India, through prefixes, it is easy to identify who is who in the family. For example, Nani is mother’s mother and Masi is Mother’s sister and so on. Explaining these prefixes also makes him aware of things that are done differently.

On my last trip to India, I bought several comic books and dvd’s featuring many Indian mythological figures. He watches these, is curious to know more and asks questions about them. And when he is in India, or if he happens to see a Ganesh in someone’s house, he points it out to me.

We also listen to old Japanese folk tale CD’s in the car which has proved to be quite a hit with him.
He watches Japanese stuff only when he is with Japanese people, so in this way I try to build in some consistency and separation so that his mind isn’t flooded."

Vinita also highlights that communication with her family in Japan and India is an incredibly valuable tool to show her son how her life was in the countries she grew up in.

"Skype really works for communicating with my brother and his family. It’s just lovely to see how my niece and my son communicate and exchange notes. Japan also celebrates many traditions based on the seasons and when we chat we share these traditions and share so much about our different lives," she tells.

Of course, modern day technology makes it much easier for expats to keep in touch with family than in years gone by but at the end of the day nothing compares to actually visiting a country to taste the cuisine, witness the traditions in action, absorb the culture and understand what life there is like. Vinita knows this all too well and tries to visit family as much as she can.

But sharing your childhood life with your own children is not always easy. Vinita explains one problem they faced the last time they took a trip to India,

"Since I mainly cook Asian/Japanese meals at home, it was difficult to find food that my son could enjoy. We managed to introduce him to new tastes, but since I myself lean towards the Japanese cuisine, I see that the Indian cuisine gets left behind and he starts wanting food that he is used to eating like pasta and pancakes."

Sharing her childhood languages with her son is also an area Vinita has to work hard at.

"I find that I have to be consistent in all aspects of sharing my culture and traditions, but especially where language is concerned. Since my son doesn’t have an equal amount of vocabulary in English or Japanese, it’s easy to slip into Dutch while speaking to me. I notice that I’m the one who needs to keep at it."

Despite both the physical distance and the cultural differences between the Netherlands and Japan and India Vinita still finds it easy to share information about both countries with her son. She elaborates,

"I’m just fascinated how children can take in so much information where language is concerned, and their flexibility in how they adjust to cultures."

Top Tips from Vinita to Teach Your Children about Your Origins
  • Use the palette and share tastes with your children by cooking traditional meals at home
  • Shop together for different ingredients that represent your country of origin - we frequent Asian supermarkets. 
  • Eat out in restaurants that cook the cuisine of your birth land - we go to Indian or Japanese restaurants so that he knows the difference.
  • Teach the language of your birth country - in our household we speak Dutch, English and Japanese
  • Use cartoons, books and DVD's to share language and culture
  • Use tools like Skye to stay in regular contact with family in other countries
  • Take a trip - nothing beats visiting a country and family
And a last note from Vinita, which I thinks sums up beautifully how lucky us expats and our children are,

"I feel privileged to have been exposed to so many countries, cultures, and languages and that exposure has helped me in my life. I would like to pass this on to my son and hopefully it will also help him with his endeavours."

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing this interesting interview. Vinita has a real global family with relatives in India and Japan, and living here in the Netherlands. I read an interesting article that it's really important that we tell our children our family stories, stories about how we grew up etc. The more they know the more resilient they are! Here's the link http://www.nytimes.com/2013/03/17/fashion/the-family-stories-that-bind-us-this-life.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&