“Why are you writing about that?” my 14-year-old daughter, Isabel, asked when I told her about this month’s “Voices from the Village” topic on race and ethnicity. She said she didn’t think it was an issue. When I asked her how she felt about having a mom who looks so different from her, she said, “I never really thought about it until now.”
I think kids are colorblind—until they learn not to be.
I have blue-gray eyes, blond hair and fair skin. My children have brown eyes, brown hair and olive skin like their dad, Carlos, who was raised in Venezuela and Colombia by parents of Italian and Spanish ancestry. I was raised in the U.S. by parents of English, Dutch, German and Swedish ancestry. Our children’s lives are shaped by this multicultural upbringing, which is normal to them.
This month, parents of multiethnic, multiracial children explore their own experiences and share their thoughts on the topic.
Race is a social construct
By Kristina Krump
“Wow, Mom, no one in our family could have used the ‘Whites Only’ door,” my then 6-year-old son Jackson said as he looked at a striking history book photo of opposing ‘Whites Only’ and ‘Coloreds Only’ doors.
“Are you sure?” I asked him. After reflecting, he said, “Well, I guess Dad’s parents could have used that door.” I explained that his Dad could have used the ‘Whites Only’ door, too.
In that moment, I understood race as a social construct. I held back tears. As a black woman, race feels very real.
What I think surprises people about our biracial family is how seldom the subject of race comes up. Only twice have our children initiated a conversation about skin color. It isn’t a conversation we shy away from; we just follow our children’s lead and are as honest and direct as possible.
Yet we have questions. Will the same police officers who now stop to offer our sons high-fives and stickers be suspicious of them as young black men? Will they be hurt by the unkind words of a stranger or the betrayal of a friend who makes a racist joke?
Our approach is to let our lives represent our values. We long for our children to be citizens of the world. We keep current passports and embrace the cultures of countries we visit. We want our children to have diversity in their community of friends and neighbors, so we choose to live downtown. Our friends are from all backgrounds and lifestyles. Our home is a place where everyone is included.
We intend to raise boys with hearts full of love for themselves and others. We have a family mantra: In all we do, we are committed to peace, joy and connection.
Issues of race are external
By Dominique Nguyen-Wascher
The challenges of having a mixed-race family often come from external influences. There are times when your children and their grandparents struggle to communicate because they don’t share the same language. But the most difficult and sad moments are when your child must confront racism on the playground.
When my son was 6 years old, his tennis coach asked him if he was Asian. My son replied, “I’m Hawaiian. My mom is Australian and my dad is American.”
In his kid world, it made perfect sense, and his color-blind explanation was refreshingly beautiful. He was born in Honolulu. I was born in Vietnam and raised in Australia. My blond-haired, blue-eyed husband is an American of German descent. When we started a family, we did not want to focus on racial differences. We celebrated what made our kids special as individuals and encouraged family values centered on kindness and understanding.
My daughter has striking almond-shaped, green-blue eyes and light hair and skin. My son looks like my side of the family, with beautiful chocolate-brown eyes and beige skin. Despite his physical appearance, he did not understand that he was part Vietnamese until we moved to Phoenix.
One day, Aaron came home exasperated. “Mom, why do kids here keep asking me if I’m Asian? What is Asian? They keep teasing me and excluding me because I’m Asian!” My husband walked him to a mirror and said, “Aaron, take a good look. You’re Asian!”
I chalked it up to kids being ignorant. My husband and I brought out a map and showed Aaron where our respective families come from and reassured him that he was a pretty neat little guy no matter what.
Focus on similarities, not differences
By Ann LoVecchio
At age 10, my older daughter, an avid swimmer, refused to go outdoors. I was perplexed at the sudden change in her behavior. Then she reluctantly confided in me that she had been taunted by a boy at school about the color of her skin. She did not want to be in the sun for fear that her skin would get darker. My heart was broken.
I spent 10 years trying to shelter my two daughters from my own experiences of prejudice as a child born in the U.S. to immigrant parents from India. My husband faced his own challenges as a first-generation child born in New York to Italian immigrants. He did not learn to speak English until he went to kindergarten.
Early in our marriage, my husband and I made a decision to focus on our similarities rather than our differences. We were both from immigrant families, both born and raised in New York, our parents struggled financially, education was a priority and family was of utmost importance.
When our kids were born, it was easy to be a cohesive family. We celebrate Diwali and Christmas and eat Indian and Italian food. We celebrate other holidays with friends and introduce our children to international customs, travel and foods. We try to teach our kids to love themselves, their family and others.
Although the comments made to my daughter about her multiethnicity were hurtful, we faced this adversity as we will all others—with kindness, compassion, empathy and love.