Mothering

Raising the Next Multicultural Generation Part Dos

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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 lock.

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 respond with kindness.

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.

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30 Comments

  1. This is great Carla. You’re so amazing to put all the effort you do into such an important topic.

    When I first came into my husband’s life, I used to get angry a lot about all the “dumb” questions and ignorant assumptions people threw his way. Heck, I still do! But far more often, I now try to educate instead of reacting out of anger and disappointment.

    It’s not that I don’t feel those things anymore, but I just realized that helping people to understand is the only thing that is going to change the game for my daughter.

    I admire your take on this, especially since you’ve had to deal with something so frustrating all your life.

    I honestly do admire you patience. My husband had so much patience with me and all my questions about his heritage, about Spanish and Mexican culture, Catholic religion and understanding what it means to be Tejano and Latino. He never made me feel stupid for not knowing before I met him and he never got upset with my lack of awareness. He used it as an opportunity and I am all the better for it.

    Trust me chica…you can change the world with those teachable moments. <3

    Abrazos!

    1. “helping people to understand is the only thing that is going to change the game for my daughter” YES! Exactly!

  2. Carla I love this post, and truly admire your attitude! You are right that though it may seem rude to ask, most people are really just curious, and by you answering questions in a genuine manner you can help them not to be so definitive about race/heritage. I have four kids and though we are all caucasian, we are of very culturally mixed heritage. I have three that look just like their dad, and one mini-me, and love to joke that I was just a host organism to perpetuate my husbands genetic material. The truth is I love what a genetic experiment each child is, some families all look alike, and I know a family with six kids who’s coloring run the gamut! That to me is the beauty of our world, and I love the way you are exploring your kids various cultural contributions with them. What fun. I look forward to reading more!

    1. I wonder all the time what more children would look like. I wish there were a way, aside from those creepy computer generated husband+wife picture morphing things, to see all the possible combinations that can be created between two people. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  3. Carla, this post is spot on! I don’t have this problem but my best friend is married to a Phlipean (sp?) man and she gets stopped all the time. It is rude! She gets asked if she is the nanny of her three beautiful kids. I love that you show both your daughters all their culture and you expose them to everything. It makes you one heck of a fantastic mom! I would love to share this post with my readers:)

  4. Great post. You know, it’s so crazy that you wrote this last night because I was looking at the recent picture you put up of your girls (I think yesterday or the day before) of the two of them smiling next to each other and I INSTANTLY thought (and I’m not lying), “Wow, they both look just like their mom!” Second thought: “They look just like each other!” (I don’t know what your husband looks like, but I saw so much of you in both of them.) I seriously didn’t even notice hair color or eye color or any of that. I just saw YOU and I saw them in each other. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that they were sisters.

    I also have a friend who married someone from the Philippines and had three children with him and she is asked all the time if they’re hers (and gets upset after repeatedly being asked). I would imagine how much that could hurt someone.

    And you know- it happens with all types of families. My sister-in-law has three kids, one of which looks EXACTLY like her husband and nothing like her, and two that look EXACTLY like her and nothing like her husband. No one ever questions whose they are, however, everyone does point out which one looks like which. Same with our girls and which ones don’t look like their dad at all. But I know that these are completely different circumstances than what my friend goes through when people assume she’s the nanny of her own children.

    You’re right. You can’t lash out. You just have to keep doing what you’re doing, which will be the best for your girls and for yourself in dealing with other people’s reactions. Thanks for sharing. 🙂

    1. Aww thanks! It’s crazy, we’re together so much I have a hard time seeing how we all resemble one another. It makes me warm and fuzzy, though, when others recognize it =)

  5. I LOVE this post! I have a friend that has three kids and two are dark haired, brown eyes and tan like the mom, and the other is blonde and blue-eyed like the dad. She constantly gets, “Where is your other daughter? Is this your daughter’s friend?” I think I will pass this along to her.

    1. Please do! I always wondered if more people got this and it’s nice to know it happens to everyone. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. Interesting. Just yesterday I was at the mall and a woman asked me if I was Dominican. I said yes and she was surprised because I was much more light skin than Dominicans are. I explained that Dominicans, like most Carribeans, have a mix of cultures and ancestors, which is why we come is different shades. I wasn’t insulted but I do wonder how my niece, who is half Dominican and half African American will relate. Her hair is curly. She is indiesita. But she looks like her father also. I can only imagine the confusion she will experience, especially when she realizes that she does not have her mother, my sisters, jet black straight locks.

  7. I love your ideas for educating your daughters about culture. The maps!!! I certainly had not thought about that maybe because my kids are so young still but the oldest is 5 and ready for understanding, I’m going to go show him lots of places in a map!!!

    1. My girls are 2 and 4 and are obsessed with maps! I think that damn Dora has something to do with it =) The older one is also really fascinated with how far everything is in relation to where she is and places she knows. Definitely get them into maps!

  8. Thanks for a great post – both parts! My husband is Mexican, I’m Anglo and we have 2 children with another on the way . . . our bio son is very fair complexioned with brown hair and our adopted (Guatemala) daughter has dark hair with medium skin. So when the four of us are together people seem to connect the dots in their own way that our son resembles me and my daughter resembles my husband. When I’m just with the kids we get some looks but not usually questions, and quite frankly the looks are probably as much about the fact that my son and I dont’ “look” like we would be fluent Spanish speakers as the mixture of colors in our group. I told my son that his sister’s adoption is her story to tell and that if any of his little friends, etc. ask whey they look so different to just say “she looks like our dad” and call it a day. As to how they will identify themselves, that is going to be interesting to watch develop. I think my son sees himself as Mexican and Irish which is as good a summary as anything. My daughter knows she was born in Guatemala but I don’t think she gets the whole ethnicity question yet . . . . I feel that she has the right to access whatever she wants of her father and my heritages. Like others have said, we try to expose them both to their heritages and other cultures via food, music, books, cultural events, etc. They both speak fluent Spanish and are pretty comfortable in both their worlds.

  9. Great post, Carla. I think that, for the most part, people is just curious, but can understand when they cross the line. Love the map´s idea, it´s a good way to show our kids that we have the world in our blood and that we are a melting pot of races and cultures. That is our treasure.

    1. Oddly enough, today a bright, happy grandpa-aged man asked me if they were both mine. He was so sweet and smiley, I couldn’t possibly get pissy =)

  10. My sons are half Puerto Rican (Daddy) and half Paraguayan (Mami) and my oldest has jet black hair and brown eyes. My youngest got two recessive genes and has light brown/dirty blonde hair and hazel eyes. I can see a lifetime of people asking questions. Thanks for sharing.

  11. I really enjoyed this post. I have the same happen to me and my daughter who is of puertorican, italian, russian, polish and american indian descents more so when she was an infant/toddler. The looks and strange questions always left me feeling like I wasn’t enough ” mother” to her. Like if those 9 months never existed lol but ths post had enlightened me to take even greater steps in helping my daughter answer the inevitable question.of ” what are you”. Its funny, I have been having this desperate.feeling of showing my daughter where mami comes from and we’re headed to mi isla bonita next month. 🙂

  12. You know, my husband was so surprised when I first took him to Spain to visit my family. When I introduced him to my blond, blue-eyed uncles and cousins he seemed so confused, I just laughed. It is a great reminder that no matter what your background, in the end we are all connected. And I think stories like yours will become more and more commonplace as our culture becomes more diverse. Great post, Carla!

    1. I agree! I’m so curious about the world my daughters will live in when they’re older. I think the world is so crazy diverse right now and I can only imagine what the future holds!

  13. Beautiful, beautiful post. I agree it’s so important to figure out our own stories, how to answer the tough questions, and get over our issues for our kids. Thanks for writing about this, and really conveying the emotion. Loved it!

  14. I love what you say about sisterhood. My sister is blanquita con ojos grises y pelo “bueno”. I got the morena skin, brown eyes and curly hair. So I kind of know what it is like to have your sister look somewhat different – the lovely thing is that when you have sisterhood down all you see is how alike you are. Thanks for sharing and writing about this 🙂

  15. I have a sone with green eyes and sandy blonde hair. I am olive skined with earth colored eyes and dark hair…. I not only get the looks, I have been asked if I’m the nanny. How do you like them apples. I love your post and think it enforces a lot of what I already practice…. Educating them. 🙂

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