WHAT ARE YOU?

Though I'm full-blooded Filipino (which, only means that both of my parents claim Filipino birthplace and identity), I often get the "What are you?" question. My heritage roots come from a series of islands that have indigenous villages of people who would mistakenly be identified as African. Through colonization, immigration, and cross-pollination, I have roots of Chinese, Spanish, and local Pinoy. My skin is light, my hair is light, my eyes are colored light brown while their shape are distinctly round-and-almond. My brothers have coarse hair, dark brown skin, dark brown hair, and wider noses than my own. Yet, we come from the same two parents.

In this latest NY Times article "Black? White? Asian? More Americans Choose All of the Above", I am reminded of both my own What are you? questions but also that of my children, who in my opinion, truly identify with two distinct heritage backgrounds: Filipino and Puerto Rican. Like with any marginalized group that experiences isolation, young people of mixed heritage backgrounds are finding solidarity and a shared experience with one another. Where the what are you? question is usually served with a heaping dose of eye-rolling, individuals from blended heritage backgrounds are sharing stories -- some painful, some hilarious -- of "that totally happened to me, too!" and "I know what you mean!"

Many young adults of mixed backgrounds are rejecting the color lines that have defined Americans for generations in favor of a much more fluid sense of identity.

Does the increase in multiracial families mean, as so many like to leap, that "racism, prejudice and discrimination are slowly losing their power"? I always say, there's personal racism/prejudice/discrimination which, I guess, you might be able to say blended families are beginning to deconstruct. We are starting to embrace the fluidity of identity, a concept that human development practitioners have always believed. That, with each life stage and each new experience, we have opportunities to grow and incorporate new ideas into our lives.

No one knows quite how the growth of the multiracial population will change the country. Optimists say the blending of the races is a step toward transcending race, to a place where America is free of bigotry, prejudice and programs like affirmative action.

Pessimists say that a more powerful multiracial movement will lead to more stratification and come at the expense of the number and influence of other minority groups, particularly African-Americans.

 

I have noticed an interesting occurrence as I work with college students around issues of identity. For the population I serve, there isn't a formula for how students identify: I have some students of mixed heritage of White and Black or Asian who strongly identify with one or the other. As the aunt of a few biracial children where 1 parent is White, I want them to know that the "White" part is just as relevant -- just as important -- as the Asian or Puerto Rican side. They need to know that being 1/2 White holds significance, that it holds information about what they will know about and experience about the world and our society.

 

While I don't believe that multiracial identity signals the destruction of racism (if it was only that easy!), what this does signal to me is movement in the direction of not just having to choose ONE thing. I believe this signals a move away from everything being so black and white (no pun intended!). That we can, indeed, be both black and white. We can, indeed, be both White and Asian; Puerto Rican and Filipino; or all four and more. In recent months, passport applications have changed to include "parent name" from "father and mother." More and more places are adopting gender neutral bathroom signs; more and more people are referring to "parents or guardians" rather than just "parents." And, more progressive environments are moving away from the assumption that everyone has a father, mother, one of each, or both.

None of us want for our children to be excluded. Whether it's a spot on the soccer team, a seat at the cafeteria table, or a chance to be in the school play, we seek to include our own children. That seems a natural role for us as parents.

How are we including the stories, lives, and experiences of all children -- of all adults -- in our world?

Make it a daily practice to ask yourself, how am I including all voices and all people in that which I do.

A Letter to my Children

To my children:  

I didn't write to you on the day that Barack Obama became the Democratic candidate. I was afraid to believe there might be a chance.

 

I didn't write to you on the night he became the President-Elect.

 

Fears of what could happen between then and 1.20.09 consumed my joy as words echoed from national news; and actions by local people burning Black churches dampened my hope.

 

picture-1But, here, now, one full day after he has become our President, I feel that hope has come. Hope is no longer a feeling, it's a reality. 

 

While our ancestors -- both on my side and your dad's side -- were not brought here against their will, nor were they forced away from their families, and weren't beaten beyond recognition, we shared a similar discrimination. We shared similar treatment of being "not American" or "not normal." Your father and I, years after slavery and the civil rights movement, in our short years, have been treated like foreigners, treated as if we were lazy, assumed to not speak English nor to be educated. Because of the color of our skin, people have assumed we were day laborers, thieves, or exotic figures. Because of the color of our skin, people were surprised when we didn't speak with accents other than that of New York City and Boston. 

 

We were rarely considered American, despite our birth certificates, 14 years of U.S. education, college degrees. When we were dating and married,  people rarely assumed that we were dating or married to one another. How could it be - an Asian and a Hispanic? 

 

Times were different for our parents -- your grandparents -- and times are now different for you.

 

For, no longer is "American" only white. The leader of our country, his wife, his children, his family, his relatives, his in-laws -- they are the America that has always been there, but that has been ignored. Othered. Foreigned. 

 

The President you will come to study in your schooling will be the America that you know. The America that your classmates will know. The America that will be written into your textbooks -- information that I had to read about on my own when my teachers only taught that white folks were inventors, black folks were slaves, red folks were savages, and yellow folks were ... well.. yellow folks.

 

Because of our new President, your books will include a history of American people that is more than white. it will include stories of families who have crossed the seas -- both willingly and unwillingly -- and who are the fabric of our nation. Those stories have always been there. It isn't a new truth; it is a truth that has always been there. Now, it will be told.

 

The story of our nation is changing. The story you will come to know will be different from the one I learned. It will be different from the one I experienced. 

 

I am hopeful that your story is the American story that will now be embraced. Your multicultural, multilingual, multiracial, multireligious, and multiethnic family looks like the family of our President.

 

I see your future in his children; I see my future in you.

Teleseminar on Anti-Racist Parenting

Join Carmen VanKerckhove and me as we host a free teleseminar on Anti-Racist Parenting! I believe it may be limited to 50 callers during the Q&A session. Within 24 hours, Carmen reported that we were up to 121 registered participants! Carmen will likely post the MP3 online a week or so after it's done. So, be sure to check back

On this 60-minute call, you’ll learn:

  • Why avoiding conversations about race is the biggest mistake you can make
  • How you are sending hidden messages to your children about race without even realizing it
  • Why you should never proclaim to be colorblind
  • How to transform the simple act of watching television into a profound lesson about diversity

and much, much more.

No matter what your current situation is, I guarantee you’ll get at least one golden nugget of information during this never-before-offered call.

So, won’t you join us? Reserve your spot now!

******

On a separate note, our dog of 8 years just died :(, so I'm doing more parenting than blogging these days. Will be sure to write again very, very soon!

She Hates Her Hair

Daughter #1 is at it again.. the hair. All the smart anti-racist parents called it a few months ago when I posted about the issues my 4- year old daughter is having with her hair. Her big, curly, beautiful hair. Joli has the kind of hair that people want to touch (which, yes, I have issues about, but let’s put that aside for a minute). It’s the kind of hair that people say, “I wish I had your hair!” But, being the 4-going-on-14-year-old that she is, Joli hates her hair.

Why is this complicated?

Mom (Filipina) has black, straight hair. Sister (also biracial Filipina/Puerto Rican) has loose wavy hair. Joli - thick, black, curly hair. Dad (Puerto Rican), well, used to be thick curly hair, but has decided to go with the shaved head look once he turned 30-something.

None of us hvo5ave hair like Joli. Only Joli does the extra 2 minute deep conditioning. Only Joli uses the spray in detangler, or, if it’s Friday night, the leave in V05 hair oil. Only Joli cries when she sees the white, wide tooth comb coming out of the hair supplies box, knowing full well that we’ll hear the sound of crying over the LL Cool J that Daddy is bumpin’ in the living room.

We all love Joli’s hair. If you’ve followed some of my posts, you’ll know that Joli lost her hair when she turned 2 years old. She endured 6-months of chemotherapy to kill the cancer cells in her body, lost her beautiful baby afro, and was often called a “boy” even though she work pink hats with butterflies on them. When Joli’s hair started to grow back, it signaled increasing health and a return to her childhood. Her hair has great meaning to me. I love her hair. bald joli

Once Joli’s hair got long enough to pull into first 2-puffs on either side of her head, and then 1-big puff at the back, she started to hate it. She cried just before getting into the bath, begging me to wet her hair quickly so that it would stop getting big after she took it out of her hair elastic. If someone saw her hair between the time she removed the elastic to the time it was soaking wet under the shower, she would scream “Don’t look at my hair!!”

We’ve asked people with hair like Joli’s to talk to her. I even went and asked one of my students to spend some time with Joli. “They have the same hair,” I thought, “this’ll be great!” Joli had fun. But, she didn’t feel any differently about her hair.

Even when her two blind friends who she met at Camp Sunshine made her feel special by saying, “We know it’s Joli because we can feel her curly hair”, Joli still hated her hair.

Jorge and I love to sing along with India.Aire’s “I Am Not My Hair.” And, Joli loves to sing along, too. She knows every word.

But, what’s my 4-year old’s favorite line? It’s when Akon sings, “But success didn’t come ’till I cut it off.”

Who says kids aren’t listening??

We point out that people have different hair when we are in diverse groups. Joli’s friends are incredibly diverse, too, and many of them go through the same hair care rituals. Joli has watched as her friend Hayley’s braids were removed, carefully untwisted strand by strand and set out on the kitchen table. While visiting her abuelos, she has watched women in the salon in Queens, NY get their hair deep conditioned and blown out. She has watched white women with layers upon layers of aluminum foil squares, waiting patiently under round heaters that encompass their heads.

I think about our journey with Joli’s hair because it keeps reminding me about Anti-Racist parenting. Even as an Anti-Racist parent and as a 9am-5pm diversity facilitator, my child still struggles with issues of race and difference.

I recently heard a well known white, anti-racist, male speak about the moment when his daughter came home claiming that “Jesus was white.” The man was horrified. Here he was, a well known anti-racist and diversity activist, and his own child was repeating the very words he had fought so hard against imparting.

I write this to point out that even those who are well-versed in anti-racist movements also struggle. That, we don’t always get it right. That, we don’t always have the answers all the time. That we can set up the ideal situations, and yet our children are still their own free spirits who must experiment with their world. Though, for me, that’s the beauty of children and the challenge of parenting.

My husband and I never argue with Joli about her hair. We never say, “No, you’re wrong, Joli. Your hair is beautiful” or “You’re being so silly! Everyone loves your hair.” Because, to her, her hair is her truth. We also don’t want her to feel validated simply because others believe something about her. Rather, we ask her questions like, “Can you tell me more about why you don’t like your hair?” or “Is there something you’ve seen or heard that makes you feel that way?” Yes, she’s 4- years old. No, it’s not too early.

We frequently talk about how she and her sister are different and beautiful in many ways. We explore the beauty of their skin color, the interracial make up of our immediate and our extended families, the racial and ability diversity of her friends, the diverse family combinations (gay married, single, divorced, mom/dad, etc) of her pre-school mates, and range of body types (from sizes 2-20) of the people who are close to us. We read stories with racially diverse characters, watch tv shows with good messages about diversity, and listen to all types of genres of music. Joli even comes to some of my college lectures on race and racism.

Yet, my child. She hates her hair.

I’m hoping that this hatred of her hair, too, shall pass. And, maybe it won’t. But, I know that my husband and I are doing our best to be supportive, honest, and encouraging of the process that my daughter is going through as she learns to navigate her emotions and her experiences as a young, biracial child.

Anti-racism is a process. And, I’m not ready to give up just yet.

What are the areas in which you try to set up the ideal environment/situation for your child, yet your child still seems to be pushing back?

What Am I First?

What am I first?by Anti-Racist Parent columnist Liza Talusan (originally posted on Anti-Racist Parent)

My children seem to have a knack for asking me really deep, thought-provoking questions at the most inconvenient times. Usually this is when we are racing out the door, late for school/work/day care. This time, it happened on the way to driving my sister, a kulingtan musician, to teach at a cultural school in Boston.

“Mommy, what am I?” says my 4 1/2 year old daughter, Joli, from the backseat of the car.

“What do you mean, ‘what are you?’” I ask, as I glance into my rear view mirror for a hint of meaning on her face.

“Like, what kind of kid am I? Okay, Filipino. But, then… then.. what’s the other kind of kid I am?”

“Puerto Rican? Do you mean Puerto Rican and Filipino? Daddy is Puerto Rican. Mommy is Filipino. So, that makes you Puerto Rican AND Filipino.” “But, Mommy, what am I FIRST? Am I Puerto Rican FIRST or am I Filipino FIRST?”

“You’re BOTH first,” I reply, with echos of my mentors on biracial identity models and child development theorists prominently ringing in my ears.

“Will Daddy get mad if I want to be Filipino FIRST?” says Joli in a voice barely loud enough for me to hear her.

“Honey, you are not something FIRST, you are both ALL THE TIME.” “Well, don’t tell Daddy, okay, Mommy? But, I’m going to be Filipino first.”

(cue my breaking anti-racist heart!)

With nearly all of my friends and extended family members identifying as biracial or multiracial — but being neither of those myself — I am very sensitive to situations that individuals find themselves in when it comes to the “choosing” question. I knew that external influences would eventually lead my children to ask the questions. I just didn’t think one of them would ask me questions at age 4 1/2!

Joli seemed fairly happy with my assertion that she is both all the time. I engaged my husband that night in conversations about where she might be getting these messages. I’m quite confident that my family — made up of all interracial couples and children — isn’t giving her the message that she must choose or prioritize. In her diverse pre-school, I have to imagine that they are not giving her those message either. Dora? Sesame Street (given Deesha’s recent post)? Or is it some of those awful Disney shows that we allow her to watch, but only with a parent watching with her?

As a newly affirmed Anti-Racist Parent, I still can’t help but wonder how much influence or environmental control we really have in our children’s lives. I truly admire Joli’s inquisitiveness and maturity about her complex identity, yet it was hard to hear it from a child of an “anti-racist parent.” Since that day, I’ve grown more aware of Joli’s comments about differences she sees in her world. Just the other night as I was brushing Joli’s and Jada’s hair, Joli made the comment that Jada had “prettier hair” (4-year old interpretation: Joli has thick curly hair like my husband; Jada has wavy, loose hair like me). While much of this can be the typical sibling rivalry, I do read into it as a reflection of her growing awareness of her multiracial identity.

I’ve been more aware of Joli sticking up for other people and other lifestyles. The other day, when reading a bedtime story of a family with a mother, father and child, Joli said to me, “You know, Mom. Not everyone’s family is like that family. Some kids have two moms, some kids have no moms, some kids have two dads, some have different types of skin…. that’s important to know.”

(cue my cheering anti-racist heart!)

I have to remind myself that raising my own awareness, that of my family, and that of others is why I do the work I do — why I live the way I live. There are moments of great heartache, moments of great joy; but there are always opportunities for learning and understanding.

And, that is why anti-racist parenting — whether as parents of children, of a community, or of our world — is not a means to an end but a process full of life and meaning. It’s a process that is fluid and malleable. It’s a commitment, a lifestyle, a mantra, a prayer. It is both an outlook and an outreach. Times when I am uncomfortable confronting a racist joke, disabling a racist conversation, or challenging a racist decision, I am awakened to the fact that I am my children’s best teacher. They will make decisions based on what they have seen me do, ways that they have seen me act, and words they have heard me say. If I am to be their best teacher, I need to also be their best student.

Tools for Teaching Diversity in a Diversity Free Zone

(Originally posted on Anti-Racist Parent) I’ve been thinking a lot about the issue of how to teach, expose, and experience diversity in a “diversity-free” zone (thanks for the segue Tami!). I directly experience this issue personally and professionally every single day of my life as the Director of Intercultural Affairs at a small, private college in the Boston suburbs, where there are very few students of color. Not only are there very few students of color, there are very few people who have ever met or talked to a person from a historically underrepresented group prior to coming to college. So, each and every single day, I actually get paid to teach diversity in a diversity free zone.

I could certainly go on and on about the challenges of my job serving as a person who is often tokenized in meetings, being the go-to person on issues of diversity, or being the “brown friend” to well meaning people. But I’m assuming here at Anti-Racist Parent I’d be preaching to the choir. So, rather than give my vocal chords a workout, I thought it might be helpful to share the toolbox I heavily rely on each day to teach diversity in a diversity free zone. Reading the comment threads, I also realize that there are people who read ARP who aren’t necessarily parents (broadly defined) but who are teachers looking for ways to add diversity to their classrooms or to their curriculum. So, I hope this at least starts some helpful ideas for people looking for some ways to grow as Anti-Racist Parents:

Turn to your local college. Many colleges have offices like mine - they are called a variety of names: Multicultural Office, Student Activities, Affirmative Action office, Diversity Office, etc. These offices/organizations typically have the responsibility of hosting diversity related events, especially during heritage months like Latino Heritage Month, Black History Month, Asian Heritage Month, etc. Check their websites and see if they have a list of programs (or ask if you can get an email copy of their programs). Call ahead and ask if the program is “family friendly” first, though, if you intend to bring small children. In my case, of the 30 or so programs a year that are diversity related, almost 1/2 of them are family friendly! And, I always love when I get calls from the community asking if they can bring students, children, etc. The other great bonus about tapping into your local college is that the programs are often FREE. At some colleges, specific groups are required to perform community outreach - you may find a number of sororities and fraternities or service organizations sponsoring these events. Again, please call to make sure they are family friendly!

Diversify your library at home. Intentionally buy or borrow books that have diversity represented in them. In our house, we have a great mix of children’s books that have stories around cultural diversity. If your local library does not have them, a number of online sellers will have them. If I’m looking for a particular book, I tend not to go to a mainstream online seller; rather, I find a cultural organization online to see if they have any links to recommended books. By going with cultural organizations rather than mainstream, I get a more accurate description of the book and the position of that cultural group. For example, when I was looking to purchase some children’s stories that were centralized around the Native American experience, I went online to a mainstream retailer, and a number of recommended titles came up. But, when I went to the cultural organization’s website, I found these exact recommendations under a heading “Books That Promote Stereotypes of Native Americans.”! Woah! So, I was really glad I had taken the few extra seconds to see if the books were supported by that group. I think this is incredibly important! Continue to read educational and well written blogs .. like Anti-Racist Parent of course! While you may not be surrounded by diversity, we are often surrounded by ignorant comments. So, reading blogs like ARP give you the tools and understanding to be an “Agent of Interruption.” And, if you are educated, you will pass that education on to your children (or students). I work in a predominantly white institution and am often, by default, the diversity educator. But, since finding Anti-Racist Parent, Racialicious and some of the blogs of people who write here, I have assigned reading these blogs as HOMEWORK assignments to my students! It’s helpful for them to see that there are others out there who share the same language and passion for interrupting racism.

When you can, choose to do business in diverse neighborhoods. I currently live on the town line between a upper middle class, predominantly white town and a middle/working class, predominantly people of color city. I choose to do my personal and professional business in the predominantly POC city.Even with the rising price of gas, I choose to drive a little further to the grocery store and wait a little longer for street parking because it is important for me to do business where there are people of color. I certainly can buy the same gallon of milk, the same bread, and the same box of cereal at the grocery store in the predominantly white (and closer to my house) town, but I choose to make the drive. Again, with the price of gas and proximity, can you do this all the time? Maybe not. But, is it worth doing it enough where your child(ren) see that people of color do the same thing that white people do in their same daily way? Yes. Find shows that include diversity in both positive and negative ways. I am not a fan of pre-teen television (especially now that my almost-5-year-old says she is w-a-y too old for Sesame Street!), but we do watch it. I am specifically not a fan of a certain channel that I feel stereotypes pre-teens of color. But, alas, my daughter seems to have won for now. She is only allowed to watch that channel if Jorge or I watch it with her. We try to steer her more towards the shows that have families of color, and we’ve found some success there. But, she also likes to watch a show that both Jorge and I find disturbingly racist. We do let her watch it, but we constantly ask her questions about what she just saw or heard when an issue comes up. Yes, she’s 4 years old, but I believe the lessons she’s learning about ways that people aren’t treated fairly are equally as important as shows that reflect her ethnicity. It’s never too early to start, right?

But, find MORE shows that are culturally diverse. My absolute favorite show right now is Ni Hao, Kai Lan. I’m sure I’ll find something wrong with it eventually, but for now, I love it. It’s the only Asian show that balances the Asian part with the “I’m a little girl” part. The other day, I asked my daughters if they wanted to have Chinese food for dinner. My 23-month old then said, “Oh, Mama. Chinese. Like Kai Lan!” I nearly cried. Growing up, there were no characters that reflected my ethnicity. I know Dora paved the way, and we certainly embraced her representing our Latino side. But, now, my kids have Kai Lan… representing the Asian side! Hurray! I haven’t quite done my homework on this one, but with the accessibility of YouTube and such, I hope to find more diverse cartoons from other countries out there!

Diversify your music. One of the best ways to learn about other cultures is through music. I have a very low tolerance for children’s songs. I have a responsibility to teach my kids the “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “A-B-C”, but there is truly only so much I can take. And, thankfully, their taste in music has evolved, too. My kids listen to anything from classical to Chubb Rock. They can sing “Bebot” (edited version) by the Black Eyed Peas and “I am Not My Hair” by India.Arie.

Be sure to have an inclusive curriculum. If you are a teacher, take a close look at what you are teaching and what you are not teaching. Does your lesson plan only include a white perspective? Are you including the very rich and diverse history of our country or just one perspective? Are you talking about contributions and inventions from people of color or just from white people? As a former teacher, I can attest that more often than not, textbooks tell a very one-sided story. As a parent, is your child coming home from school with only one-sided history? While you may not be able to change the textbooks at school (though, it’s worth the fight!), are you supplementing the school lessons with a diverse inclusion lesson at home.

No diversity organizations? Start your own! There are very few professionals of color where I work, and yet I felt the need to start a support group for us. Unfortunately, a professionals of color group would have been too small, so I opened up the invitation to anyone who wanted to join a Diversity Discussion Group. After my first announcement, about 50 people expressed interest. That dwindled down to 30, then 20, and now we have about 15 who regularly attend the discussion group. There are a few people of color, but the rest of the group is white. When asked “Why did you join this group?”, the answer from both parties was “to meet people who wanted to talk about diversity.” So, from there, we talked about books, issues, media, language, foods, our own heritage, etc. I don’t think we are a diverse group, but we are a group who wants to grow as individuals. Maybe start up a group with parents from your child’s school or play group. Get together and hire someone to watch the kids 1x a month. No time for a book club? Focus on movies from other countries and have a movie discussion group, rotating locations each time.

None of the above will end racism. I know that. But, I do think it’s a helpful start for those who are living, learning and working in diversity-free zones. I know there are others out there with tools in your tool box. Comment? Share? What has worked for others out there?

NOTE: You’ll notice that I don’t recommend simply going to places like soup kitchens or homeless shelters or community outreach organizations to expose oneself to diversity. Believe me, they are important. When it’s linked to diversity, though, I believe this can go horribly wrong as a diversity lesson. Too often (depending on the demographics of your town/city and shelters) people of color are seen as “needing help” or “down and out”. And, this “savior experience” when white people go and save people of color by serving them some food is incredibly problematic. Again, I’m not at all saying that community service is bad. What I am saying is that performing community service as an easy way to expose people to diversity MAY NOT be positive. Largely because community service (at least as defined in the college setting) does not always equal quality contact, discussion and learning. If you are going to link community service with diversity, I ask (beg?) that you also approach it by addressing power and privilege in our society.