Imagine being removed from your home, your school, your friends and your family only to be put in a completely new environment. Imagine how scary that uncertainty must feel for kids who are in foster care, many who have had experiences just like this.
“It’s hard to imagine, as adults, being moved unwillingly from one culture to another,” says Alejandro Victoria, Teen Advocacy Program Manager. “Oftentimes the kids we serve are removed from their known cultures and placed into completely new environments. It’s not uncommon to hear of stories where these children refused to eat the food in their foster home because it was unrecognizable to them.”
This is why instilling any sense of comfort and familiarity is vital for kids in foster care so that they can feel a sense of normalcy in unfamiliar surroundings. One way CASA can provide normalcy for children is to advocate for cultural practices, cuisine, and traditions that a child has grown up with.
Putting value into their traditions, culture, and experiences can make navigating the child welfare system a little bit more bearable for kids in foster care. Take, for instance, Karla*, who recently got to share a meal from her childhood with CASA.
Karla was placed in a foster home after her mother was deported back to her home country. She felt lonely in unfamiliar surroundings and was missing the Salvadoran traditions from her childhood. That’s when CASA stepped in. Marjorie Villafranco, one of our Child Advocacy Specialists, was appointed to Karla’s case and had an immediate connection with her—specifically, because they shared the same cultural background. When CASA first met Karla, she explained to Marjorie and her CASA volunteer, Elizabeth Marks, that she was missing Salvadoran food from home. On their next visit, CASA took Karla to a local Austin food truck—Pupuseria 503 y Mas—to connect over their shared love of pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish of thick corn tortilla stuffed with savory filling. Karla was elated! After they all were stuffed with pupusas, Karla confessed to CASA that she felt more connected to her mother and her culture and said, “Y’all have entered my family now!”
“Karla was able to share her traditions and express her culture with CASA,” says Marjorie. “Because we were able to bond over our shared experiences, Karla was able to open up to us and feel proud about her heritage.”
However kismet Marjorie and Karla’s shared cultural experiences were, you absolutely don’t have to share a cultural background with the children we serve to honor it. There are endless ways to validate a child’s traditions and culture—from listening to music they grew up with, going to cultural events, to celebrating a memorable holiday in their culture.
“Even asking a child how they prefer their name to be pronounced is validating their culture,” says Alejandro.
Navigating the foster care system is overwhelming to say the least. Many of the children we serve have been removed from familiar surroundings for the unforeseeable future. Imagine the validation a child could feel when someone takes the time to talk about their families, their culture, their memories and traditions.
“When a child is in a totally new environment, having someone that cares about their culture and heritage can help the child realize there is value in their experiences,” says Alejandro. “It can help them become more prideful about their past and want to cherish that part of themselves going forward.”
If we can advocate to make the experiences of the children we serve even a little more familiar and help put them more at ease in their surroundings, we at CASA believe that is a valid and necessary endeavor.
*Names have been changed to protect the confidentiality of our clients.
2019 Culture & Diversity Advocacy February