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.

Gifts

Yes, yes, I've been blog-slacking. Truth is, I have about a dozen "drafts" in the box that just haven't seen completion in the past few weeks. It's a combination of recovering from a nasty battle with bronchitis, some very charged race stuff going on at work, and the overall insanity of the holiday start up. So, here is a quick one from me -- timely, no less, given that it's the start of the traditions I abhor the most... GIFTS.

I've written about the following ad nauseum: I am a terrible gift giver. There is just something about the materialistic nature of "gift giving" that makes me crazy. I absolutely believe that Joli's illness was one of the best things that could have happened to our family. Prior to her illness, I was a shop-a-holic. I loved giving gifts, receiving gifts, buying things for absolutely no reason at all, and loved collecting items. Once Joli got sick, I felt such an aversion to "things." We didn't buy much of anything when she was in treatment (mostly because all of our money was going to medical related expenses). That Christmas, we were the recipients of one of those "giving trees" that people do at work. You know, the one where you get an anonymous tag that says "2-year old girl" and bring the gift into work? We had no idea, but our visiting nurse had put Joli's name on a number of different trees. Two days before Christmas, our tree had just a few presents underneath. On Christmas Eve, an ambulance pulled into our driveway, and a few EMTs came to our door and delivered about two dozen gift boxes for Joli!! I began sobbing at the sight of all the presents.

While we were so thankful for all the gifts we received from anonymous donors, I still felt an aversion to spending money on anything superficial. Despite our forced frugal living, I still chose to live with very little luxury during Joli's treatment. And, truth is, we have still kept it up. I rarely shop for anything that we don't need, and have only recently begun to allow myself a rare treat (hello, new iPhone -- though, I was using a phone with no "7" button!)

What I find most difficult, though, is buying "stuff". Birthdays, Christmas, Easter, Valentines Day, Weddings.... people rarely get gifts from me. (feel free to gasp here) Now, my siblings give me plenty of crap for it, don't worry. They shake their heads, call me "cheap", and are embarrassed by my non-gift-giving policy. But, I just can't bring myself to buy things for people who already have basements, attics and bedrooms full of "stuff." I think of all the people who have nothing -- whether by choice or by circumstance -- and it pains me to buy yet another toy for a kid who already has bins of toys.

My exception to the rule? Buying a thank you gift. If someone has done something so amazing that words cannot even express my gratitude, I truly enjoy surprising them with a little thank you gift. Honestly, that's quite possibly my only exception. I find such joy in buying a thank you gift for someone!

My gift aversion has also helped me to discover more environmentally friendly ways to give. I love using Freecycle. If you haven't gotten into Freecycle yet, I encourage you to find the one in your local town/city. Unlike Craigslist, people who join Freecycle agree that they will not charge (nor re-sell) for any items. It's a way to keep waste out of our landfills and to be a resource for your local community. I've Freecycled clothes, books, baby gear, etc., and it has felt so good knowing that I'm a) not contributing to landfill waste, b) helping out someone directly in my town, and c) giving of what I already have as opposed to spending money on more junk.

So, how does this all fit in with this upcoming season of gift gluttony? Find ways to give to a friend/kid that limit the amount of waste in our landfills and in people's homes. For kids, help teach them that time and love are much more valuable than plastic and wrapping. Here are some ideas of things to give:

1. A "day out" with you where you treat for lunch and a movie

2. A membership to a local museum

3. A book that you've found on Freecycle or at a book exchange

4. something homemade that uses existing materials in your house (a friend had her 6-year old son make me an awesome sea shell magnet for my birthday! it's one of my favorite gifts so far!)

On the receiving end? See beyond a "new" gift. Help kids to redefine what it means to feel loved and to be shown love. More presents does not equal more love.

My family is far from perfect. We, too, have a basement full of toys  -- many of which have not been played with since they were opened. We have toy boxes overflowing with dolls, stuffed animals, and books. We have a doll house (the combined gift for my 2 girls last year) which was played with for about a month and then retired to the cold basement. Every time I go downstairs to do laundry, I feel embarrassed by how much my children have, and am reminded of how little others have. I mentally add up all the money (spent on toys) that is sitting in that basement and can't help but think of how many trips to the hospital that could pay for, how many nights in the parking garage, how many bottles of Pediasure, and how many co-payments that could have covered for any of our cancer families. I think of all the fundraisers we have done this past year to help ease the financial burden of some of our cancer friends, and think that there is at least that amount of money in just ONE of the toy boxes.

My kids like toys. I like a nice treat. We all deserve something that makes us feel good. And, in this spirit of the season, I encourage you to find ways to share love, time, interest, and hope in ways that transcend plastic, wrapping, and those damn twistie ties that hold the toys to the cardboard.

If we can teach our children that what's on the inside is more valuable than what's on the outside, we give them some of the greatest gifts: the gift of believing they are worth our time and our love.

What gifts will you give your children? Your friends? Your family this year?

Birthing a Political Mommy

I admit. Prior to this year's election cycle, I was never really a politics buff. I rarely paid attention to domestic nor international issues. I sort of knew what was going on  - at least, as much as the daily talk shows would give me. I never took an active role. Never picked up The New York Times to answer my questions. And, I never really engaged in any political activity. Sure, I voted. But, admittedly, I voted just down my party line and never paid much attention to the issues.  

However, like most Americans, this time around was different. For me, as a woman of color, as a mom to biracial children, as the head of a cancer family, and as a person who works with underprivileged students, this election was different. I was obsessed with all things politics. CNN and NPR replaced reality shows (my guilty pleasure). Political documentaries - both Republican and Democrat - replaced comedies and action movies.  Autobiographies of political candidates replaced mindless, romantic cheesy short stories.

 

Growing up, my parents never really talked politics. As immigrants, I think they were more concerned with the day-to-day living as opposed to larger government issues. They voted Republican, I know that. I recall the names of the Republican candidates for whom they voted, but we never really talked about why. When friends came over, they talked longingly of the coryshirtPhilippines and of Filipino politics. I knew more about President Aquino (both of them) than I knew of any American President. As a kid in the 1980s, I regularly wore my bright yellow "People Power" shirt. But, U.S. politics -- not so much. I kept up with Title IX stuff in college, had a basic understanding of legal ramifications of affirmative action in the Michigan case -- all things that affected my life as a college student. However, larger issues didn't get much attention from me.

 

Becoming a mother thrusted me into the importance of engaging in politics. Selfishly, I wanted to make our country a better place for my own children. However, soon after my daughter was diagnosed with cancer and we were faced with dire health care coverage challenges, I woke up to the fact that the issues that make our country a better place for my own children are the issues that have left others silenced. Painfully, I opened my eyes to the ways in which health care (or, rather, lack of) can destroy families.

 

From my friends, I saw how the war was tearing some of their families apart as men and women were called to serve our country again and again. I witnessed how the ongoing war was keeping mothers and fathers from their children, and how husbands and wives were growing further apart. In my own neighborhood, I saw how predatory lending has destroyed families, property, futures, hopes, and dreams. I see close friends drowning in credit card debt because of unemployment and high percentage rates. Each morning, I drive by the homeless parents and children who just can't make ends meet. I hear the pain in my friends' voices who have family members in Iran, Iraq, and Afghanistan. "My children" are no longer just my own. Motherhood has forced me to see politics as a social justice.

 

While my responsibility as a citizen drove my voting interest in the past, my responsibility as a mother has driven my voting in the present. I want my children to see that I take my right and responsiblity very seriously. Because we have family and friends living in places where voting is not a right, I need  my children to see the importance of actively partcipating in the process. Even in our own country, we stand on the shoulders of those who did not have the right to vote, and that is why it is a right I take seriously.

 

This particular election gave me some of the most important teaching moments as a parent. One of the most important lessons we discussed in our home is respect. Respect. During the campaign period, the outwardly displayed and displaced hatred and attacking of character, race, religion, position, ethnicity, and ideas during this election was just horrifying. I was appalled at the imagery people chose to use to ignite terror and fear. I was saddened to see attack of character when people should have been attacking issues. Yet, it provided a basis for my husband and me to talk with our children about respect for people.  It was an opportunity to teach our children that a) not every one has to agree, but b) everyone deserves to be treated with dignity. At the same time, we also teach our children to stand up for what they believe in - no matter who is going to criticize you or judge you. We teach them that, while we must sometimes compromise agreeing to disagree,  no one should compromise their humanity, their dignity, nor the dignity of others in this world.

 

Just after the election, I wrote on my Facebook status that I was "proud to be an American." I received lots of "likes" and "comments" that supported my status. And, I found plenty of my friends who wrote that "it is a sad day for the U.S."  Fine, I respect that. Yet, a comment by a Friend started a 35+ comment thread on my own page. This Friend challenged that I should have always been proud to be an American. We then went back and forth about how I haven't always been proud of our how country, as a whole, treated people both in our history and in our present. But, regardless of our very different views, this Friend and I still treated one another with respect. It is possible. You can disagree and still commit to treating others with dignity.

 

My children are now 6 years old, 3 years old, and 6 months old.  And, unlike some, our children aren't just repeating the political views of my husband and me. We've been very aware of asking them their opinions and requiring them to provide reasons for why they think what they think/ feel what they feel. We challenge them on their assumptions. We push them to think of the person vs the problem. We ask them about intent vs effect.

 

It's not too early. It's not too early to teach children respect, dignity, and appreciation of diverse viewpoints. It has taken the birth of my children  -- my role as a Mommy -- to open my eyes to politics, and my hope is that they will continue a life of social responsibility and justice in their own.

Is There a Right Way?

My husband and I have been trying to make more connections with families in our area - a task somewhat difficult given that so many of our family members live within a 1 hour radius from our house. Weekends are usually spent hanging out with the same brothers and/or sisters along with their kids. But, we realize that we and our children need to also get to know more people outside of that small circle -- no easy task for introverts like my husband and me. 608110045_buttermilkpancakeRecently, we met up with a friend of mine and her husband who have children in the same age bracket as our kids. They are both white, though the mom grew up and was educated outside of the U.S., and have biological white children. We joined them for brunch at their house which gave the kids time to play and the grown ups time to talk.

It was our first real get-together, so we kept the conversation pretty light. We talked about work, where we lived prior to our current location, things we did over the holiday, etc. At one point, though, the discussion touched race, diversity, and our children. Both sets of children go to racially diverse schools. The mom talked about how she doesn't encourage her children to use racial descriptors when referring to people. On the flipside, she doesn't discourage it either. She said she pretty much waits and sees how her child will talk about a particular person. My husband then said, "For us, we always bring up color and encourage our kids to do so. When our kids describe others in their classes, one of the things they talk about first is whether the child has 'brown skin' or 'peach skin'. There are two boys named Tyler in the school, and when we ask for clarification, we ask if it's the Tyler-with-the-brown-skin or Tyler-with-the-peach-skin."

For my husband, who is Puerto Rican and who, too, has worked in predominantly white environments, he has always expressed frustration in the practice of using every single other descriptor about a person other than race, especially when race is the only thing separating someone from all others.  So, it's the "see that guy over there... kind of athletic build .. with the brown hair... with the book bag... standing up straight... with the nice smile...." rather than, "The Puerto Rican guy in that group." You know what I mean....

The mom responded with, "We don't bring up race because we're afraid of doing it wrong."

It got me thinking -- I definitely didn't get the "colorblind" vibe from her. Not at all, in fact. She has lived in enough places and knows enough not to live in a whitewashed world. I got the sense that it was a true issue of  "I don't want to mess it up". But I was wondering, how many other diversity saavy parents out there have chosen not to talk obviously about race? Is there a right way? More specificially, is there a right way for white parents? Is there a right way for parents of color? And, is there a right way for parents of transracial adoptive children?

Most parents of color I know always talk about race with their children. I remember when my daughter had just turned 2 years old, and we were walking on a city street. We walked by a tall Black man, and she said, "Mommy, he has brown skin."

"Yes," I responded. "He does."

That was all. No big deal. I didn't "shush" her. I didn't falsly patronize a stranger by saying how beautiful his skin was, how smart the man must be, etc. My daughter's statement about brown skin was just an observation. She noticed his brown skin in the same way she noticed the car that we walked by was red; color was just a part of her vocabulary.

A few weeks ago, one of my colleagues came to me asking for advice. She said that she picked up her 6-year old son from school and asked about his day, his friends, etc. Her son mentioned a few of names of some kids, and then said, "There is also David. But, we don't like David because we don't like Black people." My friend said she nearly drove off the road in shock. "What do you mean we don't like Black people? Where did you hear that? Who told you that??" she screamed, later admitting that she probably shouldn't have reacted so strongly at that moment. "Oh, never mind. Sorry, Mom, I mean, yes, we like Black people. We like Black people, right, Mom??"

My colleague -- again, another person who I consider diversity saavy -- realized her reaction had just simply scared him into not talking about it anymore rather than engaging her son in the conversation. Now, when she tries to revisit the conversation -- even weeks later -- her 6-year old son clams up and says, "I don't want to talk about it, Mom. I'm so sorry. I like Black people. I really like Black people." She's struggling to re-engage him into the conversation. She says she tries to bring up race and the color of skin in very nonchalant ways, but her son immediately flies into apology mode and wants to end the discussion. I encouraged her to buy some children's books that have kids of color in it, etc. Her son likes to hear a bedtime story each night, and so I suggested this might be a good way to introduce the discussion back again without obviously talking about the comments in the car.

My colleague asked questions that many of us hear often: "Where did he learn that? Why did he say 'we' don't like Black people?  Am I doing something that is sending him messages about Black people? Is it school? Kids at school? Television that we watch?"

"Probably a little bit of all of the above," I replied.

Was this the "we-don't-want-to-do-it-wrong" example that my brunch friend was talking about? Did my colleague do something wrong by reacting as strongly as she did with her son? Or, was she just sending a clear message that the sentiment of  "we don't like Black people" is unacceptable?

wrongway1So, back to my question -- is there a right way to bring up race? Is there a wrong way?

A Great Parenting Post

Hi everyone! I have lots of great posts in my queue that I want to get out there, but just haven't had a chance with the hectic pace at work! In the meantime, one of my favorite Anti-Racist Parent writers, Deesha, posted this recently. I love it. Enjoy!

When Anti-Racist Parenting Goes Wrong…Or at the Very Least, Neurotic

 

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!

Catching Up

I've been unplugged (on purpose) for the past week and just catching up on some of my favorite blogs. Here is a beautiful one that I read by my friend, Casey, about the life and passing of her Chinese grandmother (who she refers to as "one of her parents")

Everything I learned about being Chinese I learned from her. She did not bind her feet as a child, so I learned to talk back and refuse to be treated in a subsevient manner. She did not allow herself to be subjected to a loveless, arranged marriage, so I learned to fall in love and let my heart guide me. She treated the least of our society with the most of her heart, so I learned to seek out justice and be grateful for what I have and give back what I can. She spoke loudly and with conviction, so I learned how to be a loudmouth and badass, too. Occasionally - only very occasionally - she cried. Whenever she did, I cried too. As my uncle died a year ago, she sat quietly in her wheelchair and from time to time reached out to touch his toes. I remember what it was like to touch Matthew’s toes for the first time, to fully embrace his newness and the beginning of life. I can only fathom what heartache she felt when she sat there and touched his toes for the last time at the end of his life.

I'm reminded what my children are learning from me - especially as young women of color. I was raised by a Filipina mother who was not afraid of speaking her mind, as long as no one else heard it. She would talk smack about people, when they weren't around, and when she saw them face to face, she was polite, kind, and cordial. I grew up doing much of the same. However, when my daughter Joli was diagnosed with cancer, I lost all appetite for pretending to be nice. I found my authentic, truthful voice. I had to serve as an advocate for my sick toddler, and learned to be an advocate for myself.