Thursday, September 11, 2014

Raising Bi Racial Kids

When I was in graduate school, I took a diversity class and learned about multicultural counseling. In this class, one of our projects was to write about our own cultural identity and prompted me to address the question about my own identify in terms of ethnicity and race. It got me reflecting about what being Asian means to my identity and how it impacts my life. And more importantly, what role will that play out in my children's lives?

For those of you who don't know, I was adopted from South Korea and arrived in the good ole' U.S of A courtesy of United Airlines when I was nine months. I have always known I was adopted and it's been something I always viewed as what made me special and different (in a good way). Historically and currently, I haven't had a real interest in finding out about my birth parents because the parents who raised me, they are just that- my parents. I've never felt a void or had questions specifically about my birth parents besides the typical questions of "why?" when I was younger. My parents answered those questions and I was satisfied with their answers. While growing up, I didn't learn about the Asian culture from which I was born, and I was immersed in the Western culture and I even used to joke that I was a "white girl inside and Asian on the outside." When I got into middle school,  I did become self conscious about my appearance and I remember it like yesterday- my best friend and I put clear tape over my eyes to make them appear "bigger." At the time, we thought this was absolutely hilarious but now looking back, I can see how insecure and self conscious I was about looking different. I tried my best to show people that even though I looked Asian on the outside, that I was just like them! And that I didn't act or dress weird like other Asian people. That I didn't eat rice (except one of my favorite foods to this day is Chinese food) I didn't think much about how this impacts me or how it speaks volumes about the society we live in today. How easy it was for me to be accepted and why was that?  Is it because I assimilated and act how people think I should act? Is it because I don’t identify with the Korean culture? If that is so, then is that what it takes to be accepted? To give up your own culture?  Even close friends that I have had over the years have commented that they don't see me as "Asian," that I am just like anyone else. In the beginning stages of my relationship with Will, I asked him how it felt to be in a biracial relationship, triggered by a topic in sociology class- and he had no idea what I was talking about. He laughed and said he hadn't even thought about it like that. And honestly, neither did I and we both laughed and again, I felt relieved and content and viewed it as a positive that no one saw me as Asian, they just saw me, for me. 

But when I took that class at Drake, I started to look at my acceptance in a little bit of a different light. Was it so great that people didn't "see" that I was Asian? And family and friends, I know you love me just as I am and once you get to know someone you don't see the outside appearance but instead, what's inside. I get that. But at the same time, it makes me wonder what it would have been like if I hadn't been so "Americanized." Would I have been accepted in the same way? Not only by my friends and family but by society in general? It's something that I started to question in my assignment for Drake as well as raised some questions when it came to having children of my own.

It was a little over four years ago in which I wrote this, "How important is my Korean ethnicity to me? To this day, this question is still unanswered. As of yet, it has not appeared to be too pertinent. I have taken no interest in finding out more about the Korean culture and have been perfectly okay with taking on the cultural background of my adoptive family. One event that has recently occurred that has me questioning this very debate is that I am pregnant. I know that my child (ren) will inherit many of my Korean characteristics and what will that mean to them? Will they ask why they look different? Will they wonder if they should identify with my husband and adoptive family or with my Korean ethnicity? If it is not something I identify with, will it even be a question?"

Sophia has not questioned anything but I am sure that day is not too far away. One of the biggest draws to choosing our last child care provider was the diversity- where being white was the minority. I loved that about it and Sophia made wonderful friends from all different backgrounds/ethnicities/races. One day she asked me to do her hair like her friend, Mea. It is important to know that Mea is African American whose hair is typically done in braids with beads. I explained to Sophia that her hair is much different than Mea's and unfortunately, cannot be replicated with her stick straight hair. Through her princess obsession it has recently become clear that she obviously favors light skinned, light haired princesses over the dark haired ones. Mulan, Snow White and Jasmine are tossed aside for Rapunzel and Cinderella. I have tried to encourage her to chose characters who look like her but not very surprisingly, our options are low to none. More recently, we were looking at pictures of princesses and I pointed to Mulan and she said "That looks like you, Mommy." I replied "Yes, she does, she sure is pretty, isn't she." (Of course I had to add the pretty in there ;)).  Sophia just nodded and we moved on. It got me thinking again about how I may tackle those questions related to why I look different than the rest of my family. Will I tell her I was adopted and that I am from Korea? And how? And when? The toughest part, I know, will be to help her learn to accept herself and love herself despite looking different from the other blue eyed, blonde hair girls in her class. I pray that she doesn't go through the insecurities and self consciousness as I did. I hope that she learns that beauty comes in all forms and I hope that she can also find acceptance in others who are different than her as well. Not only does she have to contend with the girl drama that starts early but on top of that she has to contend with looking just a little different than most of her peers. 

I hope that through my own journey of self acceptance and love that I can show her what it's like to accept yourself and love the differences that make us, us. It's a journey that I am still on and hope that through honest and open communication I can help make her journey a little easier. 

Look at that cute snow baby! :)