There has been more than few instances when our family has come under the scrutiny of complete strangers, asking us questions that made me wonder whether other interracial families come across. The one that stood out to me was a time when I brought Emma out shopping with me, and we were just sitting on a bench, taking a short break from all the browsing, and we encountered a man in his mid-50s, sitting across from us. He was quite friendly, and we chatted for about 10 minutes or so, him making occasional comments about how lovely Emma’s curls were, when at the end of the conversation, he asked whether I was my daughter’s nanny. While I thought it was more comical than offensive, it later dawned on me that this man truly did not see any familial connection between Emma and I, due to her looking very different than what I am–an Asian woman. As she grew older, these occurrences didn’t stop. One particularly interesting one was when we entered YVR airport, and a border officer, upon examining both our passports, asked whether I was the mother, as his gaze fixated on Emma.
And as I sometimes recount these to friends, it hadn’t occurred to me how intently my daughter was listening in to our conversation–until recently. Just recently, we completed a commercial shooting, and I was comparing our experiences with the “are you the mother” encounters with our shoot stylists, who also had mixed children, and the very next day, Emma came up to me, tugged at my sleeve and asked the question I should’ve known to be inevitable:
“Why do I look so different than you, mom?”
And while I have had chats with our kids about the many historical, cultural and physical differences Sam and I share, and explained this was the reason why they both bear the unique different appearances–I suppose the extent of our kids’ understanding of this subject would also evolve with their age. When they’re younger, it is easier for them to accept that this was simply the way it was–they had an Asian mom and an African dad, and the world was just as it should be. But as they get older, more questions would inevitably arise as their self-awareness grow. Kids are keen observers, and comparisons between their peers are bound to happen. So what should we, as interracial parents, do to build their confidence, and to assure them that they are perfect just as they way they are?
With two young children, I am by no means an expert of raising interracial kids, but here is what I find to be working in our family, and I’d love to hear from you, if you happen to be in a similar situation and have helpful tips to share!
- Dismantle false preconception through education
The best way to squander their insecurities is, well, to literally dismantle the false preconception that ‘interracial mixing’ is wrong. I can’t keep count of the many racist comments we get on social media, sharing their opinions on why unions between a Black man and an Asian woman is unacceptable, or even detrimental to a ‘pure lineage’. And while we seldom encounter these verbal aggressions in real life (as trolls typically only hide behind their keyboards), I am certain that our kids will eventually encounter similar online attacks. So we start teaching our kids, from an early age, about how far we’ve come, collectively, as societies, to counter racism. And along the way, we would inevitably touch upon the ‘harder’ topics, such as slavery, and system of racial oppressions. As both of us are visible minorities, we are acutely aware of how some of these topics could be a bit hard to digest at first. So we take it slow, and we introduce books on Black history, as well as Asian immigrants’ stories, and at the same time, we offer them a positive perspective, emphasizing on all the major milestones that our past leaders, communities, have achieved.
2. Help solidifying their identities
When I was growing up, Asian representation in media was not a really a thing. The only “superhero” I could look up to that looked like me was the Yellow Power Ranger, and that wasn’t exactly my favourite show growing up in Canada. This may explain why I gravitated to listening to Taiwanese songs, and why I took a sudden interest to learn Japanese, and became a Japanese and Korean drama fan. In some ways, this was me reaching out to my roots. I wanted to see myself portrayed in songs, stories, popular culture. For our kids, it would be two different cultures, and we are so ready and excited to embark on re-discover all the things that make both Taiwanese and Tanzanian cultures so incredibly beautiful. That being said, we also want to show them role models that bear their resemblances for them to identify with, and look up to. One of my favourite athletes is Misty Copeland, the first African American Female Dancer with the Prestigious American Ballet Theatre (see her book here). For my daughter who shares a love of dancing, Misty is an incredible role model and inspiration.
3. Travel back to our origins
And finally, the best way to re-discover our roots, is to re-immerse ourselves in the place where we came from. We travel back to Tanzania regularly, as this is where our businesses (safari company and glamping hotel) are based. And every time we go back, the kids make new memories, encounter new people and communities, and they start to make new memories of this place where their dad is from. We are planning our next trip back to Taiwan, and I can’t wait for them to meet their family in the other end of the world, tasting real, authentic Taiwanese dishes! There is nothing compared to experiencing culture by seeing the actual sceneries, tasting the very snacks that you read about, and to embrace the people who are so intricately linked to you.
As complex and sometimes challenging it may be, we are so grateful to be on this journey with our kids, as we learn more about ourselves as an interracial family unit. We are still navigating our way through life as a ‘mixed couple’ and as a ‘blasian family’, and we hope that our experiences can be helpful to other families, and together, we can celebrate racial diversity!