Fact #1 about being in an interracial marriage: People tell you all the time that your kids will be beautiful. Seriously, all the time: the first time you meet them, whenever the topic of children comes up, sometimes for no reason at all. I have mixed feelings about how appropriate this statement is: Yes, I’d love for my children to be good-looking, who wouldn’t (life is so much easier for beautiful people, isn’t it?), but something about it feels a little stereotyped to me. There are unattractive multiracial people out there, after all. (No names. But they’re out there.) And, on an unrelated note, this comment makes me feel pressure to produce a good-looking child, which I have literally no control over – and again, let’s remember that unattractiveness is completely within the realm of possibility. But I digress.
While other people assert that my still-hypothetical children will be beautiful, I’m concerned about something else entirely: How exactly does one raise a multiracial child?
I have no recollection of discussing race with my parents as a child, other than them telling me vague platitudes about how I should be proud to be Chinese, for reasons unspecified, and the time I read something interesting in The Baby-Sitters Club and asked them if it was true. My parents were immigrants from a racially homogenous society; their parents did not talk to them about race, and in turn, they did not discuss it with their kids. Moreover, they did not experience questions, comments, or general discomfort about their race as children, so there was little they could do to prepare me for such things. I learned about race the hard way, from questions about where I was from and whether I knew karate, from unflattering gestures and schoolyard rhymes.
Because I had these experiences firsthand — and because discussing race is a sizable part of my work — I think I’m in a better place to talk to my children about it than my parents were; I have an understanding and a vocabulary that my parents, back then, did not. But while my child will be also be a minority, they will face an entirely different set of issues, ones I’ve never experienced. I’ve gotten plenty of “What are you?” but never “What’s going on… here [gestures toward face]?” (Someone actually did that to a multiracial friend of mine a few months ago. It was one of her professors.) People have been curious about my heritage, sometimes excessively so, but my appearance doesn’t confuse them. I don’t know what it’s like to have options regarding my racial identity – or, less fortunately, to feel pressure from society to pick one of my identities over the other, or to find that the group I identify with doesn’t count me as one of them. This is new terrain for me; there are questions and comments I can’t anticipate, and for that reason, I’m not sure about how I’ll talk to my child about these things. In this way, I’m not so different from my parents 30 years ago.
And then there are the questions about how I’ll teach my child about their Asian American side. Growing up, I was surrounded by cultural markers, so to speak: My parents spoke Mandarin in the house. They cooked Chinese food. The values they taught were unilaterally Asian. Most of the families we hung out with on weekends were also Taiwanese. Though I resisted it mightily, it wasn’t hard for them to transmit culture to me. It will be much more difficult, I suspect, for me to do the same with my children: My Mandarin is garbage. I can sign them up for Chinese school — I hope that speaking Chinese is cooler in California in the 2020s than it was in Michigan in the 1990s so they hate it less than I did – but I’ll be useless when it comes to helping them with their homework after 1st grade. My husband and I don’t cook Chinese food often, and when we do, it’s almost always from a cookbook written by a white person. (Mom was right: I should’ve learned from her before I moved across the country.) The values in our home will be a hodgepodge of Asian and American. And my husband and I have a diverse community, which we love, but it means that our kids probably won’t see a ton of Asian people on a regular basis. So really, I don’t have a ton of cultural resources to work with.
And then if I really feel like getting carried away, I can conjure up all kinds of fears: that my children will prefer their grandparents who are white and speak English flawlessly, the ones who are “normal;” that my kids won’t like being Asian and will wish they were more white; that they’ll identify as Asian but be perceived as not Asian enough. And on and on and on.
When I bring myself back to reality, I take comfort in knowing that though they may not align perfectly, many of my experiences will relate to theirs: I know what it’s like to feel torn between 2 cultures and not identify fully with either one, to shift culturally between my family and my husband’s, to wish I was less of what I was and more of something else. Obviously, I hope my children will love being multiracial and all of this will be moot – but if that doesn’t turn out, I do have something to draw from. And when I look at my list of irrational fears, I see that they’re all things I’ve experienced myself, so either I’m just projecting all of my ish onto my nonexistent children or I’ll be super-prepared for what comes down the pike.
I’m also reassured by the fact that if we stay in the Bay Area, my children will see plenty of other multiracial kids, so hopefully they’ll feel like they’re normal and not objects of fascination.
And most importantly, I take comfort in the fact that no one can be fully prepared for everything that happens to their children, regardless of their racial makeup, so I certainly won’t be alone. And more likely than not, I’ll have an entirely different set of concerns when I’m actually a parent than I do now as someone who’s merely speculating. So here’s to learning from unexpected challenges and to being open to surprises.