Here, real moms share how and why they planned heritage vacations with their families. Use their experiences to help you plan your own culturally stepped getaway with your brood.
Before my husband, Fernando, died from cancer a couple of years ago, we were planning a trip to Colombia so that our son Andrés, now 4, could meet our extended families. This past December, we finally made the journey with my mother and in-laws. Tíos, primos, and relatives near and far joined us for a special meal in Fredonia, a small town near Medellín where my aunt owns a farm. Andrés watched as my 84-year-old abuela carried a huge caldero from the wooden kiosk where everyone was cooking and put it over the firewood outside to prepare a sancocho. We all pitched in: Andrés washed carrots, my mom peeled potatoes, and someone else added plantains and yuca to the pot. When the food was ready, Andrés tucked into the hearty soup as my cousins reminisced about our many adventures during my childhood visits to Colombia. After my husband’s passing, I realized that tomorrow isn’t guaranteed and you have to prioritize family and enjoy one another. What better way to do that than through a memorable meal? —Carmen Ordoñez; Miami
Though my kids, Ariane, 12, and Sebastian, 9, were born in Guatemala City, we moved here when they were little. They don’t remember ever living there. So it’s my job to teach them the history of our ancestors by taking them back to our country. In Guatemala, a large percentage of people are of Mayan descent and are actively maintaining centuries-old traditions by living the same way they have been for hundreds of years. It’s important for my children to see that the culture is very much alive and not just a thing of the past. In 2014, I took them to San Antonio Palopó, one of the small Mayan villages on the shores of Lake Atitlán, where they observed artisans weaving textiles and sculpting pottery. Sebastian was so impressed by the ceramics process that he picked out a hand-painted plate for us to bring home. That trip piqued their interest in all things Guatemalan. One of my house rules is that the kids have to read in Spanish for 20 minutes every day, and my son’s favorite stories are Mayan legends like the one about the creation of humankind from corn. My daughter is really into the cuisine there, and she helps me make traditional dishes such as pepián and champurradas. We’re already planning our next trip! —Paula Bendfeldt-Diaz; Cape Coral, Florida
I lived in Guayaquil, Ecuador, until I married my husband and moved to Raleigh, North Carolina. The people, places, and traditions of my hometown are such a big part of who I am, and I want my children— Rebeca, 8, Evalyn, 6, and Daniel, 3—to feel the same connection that I do. That’s why last November, when we all visited there together, I took them to the Parque de las Iguanas, a local attraction they had only heard about in childhood anecdotes they considered pretty weird. (“What? You petted reptiles in the park as a little girl?”) Though they were initially scared of the free-roaming lizards, some of which are up to 3 feet long, they soon noticed how others interacted with them. After all, running alongside an iguana is as normal to a kid in Ecuador as playing fetch with a dog is to a child in the United States. Once my children felt safe, they helped me feed collard greens to the iguanas, and suddenly my old stories didn’t seem so odd to them any more. —Linda Lopez-Stone; Raleigh, North Carolina
Tip: Minimize culture shock. Prep kids by previewing in books and online videos some of the places they’ll visit. If you have a picky eater, take her to a local Latino restaurant where she can try some typical dishes ahead of the trip.
When my boys—Thomas, 9, and William, 6—say they don’t want to speak Spanish for fear of being perceived as “different,” I can almost hear my younger self desperately trying to fit in. It’s only when we leave our hometown of Stratford, Connecticut, and head to my native country of Paraguay that they realize they’re not so much different as special, because they have this international family that is always going to support them. When we traveled to Asunción this past December, the boys would have lunch every day with their nine cousins at my grandmother’s house and laze around the pool afterwards, swimming, playing card games, kicking a soccer ball around. To see them in that setting, talking and interacting with the other boys in Spanish without feeling self-conscious about their accent or worrying about mispronouncing a word, was beautiful. Being with family allowed them to spread their wings and embrace every part of who they are. —Divina Rodriguez; Stratford, Connecticut
“My husband, Alex, and I are in a bomba music group called Alma Moyó. This percussion-driven musical tradition is part of our mission to affirm and preserve our Afro-Latino roots. It was passed down to Alex from his grandparents and great-grandparents, and he’s giving it to our kids—Ariel, 12, Kiyala, 10, Marcos, 7, and Sebastian, 2. To help them understand this part of their identity, we all traveled to the Afro–Puerto Rican town of Loíza a few years back for the Fiestas de Santiago Apóstol. During the three-day festival, the community there gathers to pay homage to a saint they believe has provided them with strength and courage. You’ll see elderly women holding this really big statue, making that sacrifice to parade him down the street. It’s a rich thing for my kids to see abuelitas being strong. With the sounds of bomba drumming in the background, it’s a super-warm hearth. My son Ariel even played the drums at a bombazo during a procession, and Kiyala clapped along. It’s powerful to watch them continuing this family tradition. —Manuela Arciniegas; Goshen, New York