This is part of a series exploring identity as it pertains to raising multicultural children today. I know the topic of identity is a tricky one and I don’t claim to be an expert. I know about myself and my experience being multicultural or “mixed” or whatever you want to call it. I don’t believe there’s a right answer to anything, on this topic or any other topic for that matter. I have opinions and ideas and those change with time and experience. You can find Part Uno here. Here is part dos. Take a looksee, share your thoughts and be kind.
A lifetime ago when I was the parent of one child who happens to look just like me and my husband – dark hair, tan skin, earth colored eyes, facing the curiosity of strangers and answering “What is she?” seemed monumental. I overcame my hesitations to take seriously the inquisitiveness of strangers and familiar faces. Finally, in motherhood, I felt comfortable with the question that’s followed me all my life “What are you?”.
Motherhood demands I lead by example, so I do.
Imagine, then, my surprise when out came baby number two – a daughter with blonde hair, sandy colored eyes and fair skin. The question no longer was “What is she/are they?” It’s now, “Are they yours?” “Are they sisters?” “Her dad must have light eyes?”
Motherhood also requires testing at every turn.
Every time their sisterhood is questioned, whether with a question, a stare or a comment, I have an Ally McBeal moment where I zone out and envision myself smacking them upside the head. Then I come back to earth and smile kindly to affirm that yes, they are, indeed, hermanas.
And I get their curiosity. It’s like looking at an equation that doesn’t make sense. Two plus two equals five…WTF?
I have to remind myself – how I respond will shape how my daughters will face their future challengers and inquisitors.
They wear their sisterhood with great pride. Every stranger gets the facts, even when the other is absent. I’m 4. My sister’s 2. My name’s Dessa. Her name’s Farrah. We’re sisters. It’s how most conversations start. Sisterhood, intact, solid. No doubts. They’ve got the sisterhood department on lockdown. Test that, mofos!
What I deal with now is how to provide them with a positive example of how to tell the story of who they are.
(side note: this idea of storytelling in this department of identity isn’t my own….a while ago a wise woman shared a post and fans wiser still gave some insightful feedback and thus the seed of storytelling about identity was planted in my mind…many thanks, amiga…when I find the post I’ll add the link but if you feel like searching yourself, it’s over here somewhere)
I thought I had left behind my urges to be a smart ass, to quickly quip back at strangers – yes, she’s mine – no more information, no educating, no storytelling. Mind your beeswax, folks. But I’ve realized, just like before, I have to stop being part of the problem. People are genuinely curious. Many people have never had the experience of being around a diverse community.
I have to do away with my expectations of others and step up to the plate.
And so, I educate. Myself, my daughters, strangers.
- I use maps to show my daughters all the places they’re from (Cuba, Portugal, Spain, Ireland, Italy, the Philippines and America).
- I point out to them on maps where past generations were born. Where other major life events happened for them.
- I read more about the places foreign to me. I find ways, in food, in books, in music, to feel what it’s like.
- We make meals, explore restaurants, attend cultural events and open ourselves up to what the community around us has to offer.
- We read board books, picture books, chapter books, magazines, websites – anything we can get our hands on to broaden our perspective.
- And the biggest lesson for me, my girls and the curious – I respond with genuine respect and kindness, I tell a story. The goal being to make an impression –
-On myself, to surrender to curiosity.
-On my daughters, to strengthen and empower their sense of self.
-On others, to provide a point of reference for the next time.
Are they both yours? It’s amazing how different they look. She’s so blond. Are her eyes light?
Yes. Blond and light eyed and brunette and dark eyed. It’s the beauty of having roots all over the world.
This post had been sitting in draft forever, like months and months back into 2011 forever. Then yesterday a good friend posted a story, Raising Biracial Children in An Increasingly Interracial World, with this statistic, “1 in 12 marriages in the United States are interracial.” It gave me the final push to finish this bad boy. And I know the numbers of interracial marriage, and thus the numbers of interracial offspring, will only continue to increase. It makes me wonder if there will come a day when the curiosity will fly in the other direction towards those who aren’t multiracial. I know there will always be those whose heads spin at the idea of dating, let alone marrying or procreating outside there race, but lucky for the rest of us love and lust, either conspiring together or working alone, always prevail. Take that psycho purists!
In doing these posts on raising the next multicultural generation, I realize it’s really about parenting ourselves. It’s about doing the work for ourselves, with our own issues, expectations and demons, working it out for ourselves so we can model for the next generation how to walk tall, head held high. It’s got very little to do with what lessons we try to impart to our children through words and more about what we allow them to witness.
What lessons have you learned about cultural identity from your role as a parent? Has it changed the way you respond to the curiosity of strangers? Enlighten me in the comments, por favor.