Category Archives: prejudice

The Misguided Guide

My parenting could be described as a “fly by the seat of my pants” philosophy. Before I became a parent, I read parenting books and made notes on steps and rules. I was a planner, and I was certain of my future as a parent.

The minute my boy broke free from my womb, it was apparent that no book could prepare me for this trip, but I wholeheartedly accepted my role as the life travel guide.

If you have been reading my blog, you know that my boy is struggling with his racial identity. One day, he wants to blend in. The next, he proclaims his allegiance to Asian Pride. My love for him drives me to be supportive but also to encourage dialogue so that I, too, can learn. His recent entry through the door of self-discovery has brought many opportunities and also several failings in my job as his tour guide.

Current events and books are often the spark to our talks. Recently, discussions erupted about the Zimmerman trial (Trayvon Martin) and racial profiling. We talked about a local incident.

My daughter asked if the person was “African American.” My son immediately said, “You can say ‘black’ because saying African American is kinda incorrect.” She suddenly teared up. I explained that terms evolved, and I brought up a book she had read to me this year, The Lions of Little Rock by Kristin Levine. We talked about the progression of terms through the years.

My daughter sulked. She felt down the rest of the day. At bedtime, she could not hold back her fears. Through tears, my daughter said, “I want to look more like you. I want to be Asian. I don’t mind if people tease me. I am afraid that people will expect the worst from me because I am white!”

How insensitive I had been! In trying to protect and support my son, I had alienated my daughter. It wasn’t as if I did not know her racial identity struggles. I had written about it here! But when I had asked her the same questions I had asked my son, she had seemed so definitive.

Me: “Are you Korean?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you Puerto Rican?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you American?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

Me: “Are you British?”

My daughter: “Yes.”

I thought she was so much more comfortable in her skin, but in fact, she isn’t. She is just as confused as I am.

I have been misguided in applying my experiences as a child to both my children. My daughter is frustrated because she does not have the same experiences I had. She cannot share those experiences like her brother and I can, and we have made her an outsider.

I recognize my mistake. She is mixed and confused. Lending me her spectacles on life, she has taught me her struggles, and I vow to listen more carefully. We will travel these roads together and alternate guide duties.

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How We Must Love As Parents (part 3)

Some time later, Patrick was found on a Padre Island beach in Texas. He had been a victim of a homophobic attack. As a result of the trauma, he lost his memory.

As the details became clear, a former co-worker at the Clarksville Red Lobster passed on the phone number for the hospice where Patrick was staying. I called and left messages, asking him to call me back. The Tennessee his memory afforded was not a place where he felt comfortable anymore. He needed to make a new life in Texas, one without the pain of the past.

I had lost a friend. But I still imagined Patrick coming to my wedding, playing with my children and becoming “Uncle Patrick.”

Over time, I continued to introduce my father to my gay friends. One night, just after my wedding, my father pulled me aside at a party and said, “I like Jeffrey! He’s so funny!” I revealed that Jeffrey was gay, and my father said, “So? That is none of my business. He’s a really funny guy.” Patrick’s words of wisdom came back. “He will come around.” My father’s fear was falling away.

In 1998, I was living in Fort Collins, Colorado, and news of Matthew Shepard’s death flooded the media. All the emotions from 1990 came rushing back. Matthew’s lifeless body on the fence became Patrick’s lifeless body on a beach. If I couldn’t connect with my friend, I would fight the hatred and fear that took him away. I devoted my time to human rights … rights for all.

I attended PFLAG (Parents, Family and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) meetings, and listened as parents warned, “Watch what you say. When you say, ‘Someday, you will marry a nice girl,’ to your son, you’re building a wall.” Along with the normal fears of becoming a parent, I was determined that I would never build that wall.  When I had my first child, I promised to teach him to never fear those who were different and to never fear being different himself. 

I still held the memory of Patrick and the hope of reconnecting with him someday. I called the hospice until they informed me that he was no longer there. I searched the internet for Patrick Goettl and found nothing.

In 2009, I moved to Wisconsin, his hometown state. This started my search again. Still, nothing emerged. 

Last summer, I decided to search for Patrick again. This time, I based my search on the crime of his abduction and discovered that he had changed his name to “Zach” and had passed away in Corpus Christi on March 16, 2000, a month and a half before my son’s birth. This time, my loss was final.

I connected with his former boss in Corpus Christi, Marco Mattolini. He filled in the years I had missed, and I told him of the man named “Patrick.” The man Marco knew as “Zach” was Marco’s “right-arm,” and his death affected him and his business. “I might cry now,” he said as he explained how Patrick had died of pneumonia, a complication due to AIDS. 

I wanted to be there at his bedside. While I was rejoicing in the new life I had as a parent, he was wasting away in a hospital bed. I have imagined and dreamed of what ifs … if I had made a different decision … if our society had been more like it is now … if he had found a partner to love … if his family had accepted him as the person he was.

I still feel the loss just as I did in 1990. This loss drives me. When my children are secretive about crushes, I am quick to say, “I respect your secrecy about your crush, and I want you to know that no matter who you may have a crush on, be it boy or girl, I will support and love you.” This dialogue has happened since they were toddlers and professed their desire to marry their parents. It happens so much that they now say, “Yes, Mom, I know you will love me, even if I am gay.”

At The Changing Face of Adoption Conference in Appleton, we were asked to talk about how our race impacted our lives. Interestingly, my fellow panelist, Alex, made it clear that his haunts were not about race but about his being gay. In the same breath, he punctuated the love and support from his adoptive family. He said he felt safe at home. 

I was reminded again of the pain Patrick had felt as his adoptive family slipped from him. I asked some social workers if they ever mentioned to prospective adoptive families that there could be the possibility that their child might be gay. They said they tell families that a child’s future self is unknown, but they did not specifically mention sexual orientation.

We talked at the conference about making changes in transracial adoption. There are huge waves of this spreading love for our cultures. But what about love for other aspects of our being?

Just as Tom French said, “To have a child is to embrace a future you can’t control,” we as parents can control our love. We can love our children without judgement.

Race Matters

“No one will date you because you’re mixed race.”

My heart sank this past week when my son told me someone had said this to him, but I hid my hurt.

I said, “Did you tell him, ‘That’s okay, because I won’t date racist people’?”

“No!  I never thought of that,” he replied excitedly, “That’s good.”

I explained I had many years of experience thinking of comebacks. Yet, this wasn’t the first time my son had experienced prejudice. At eight, he had his first bout with it as I described in this post. At the time, he didn’t seemed phased, but he admitted this week that he had held onto that memory as well.

As we talked further, he felt better. He realized that he was not alone, that his mother had grown up with the same, and that as author Eric Hoffer once said, “Rudeness is the weak man’s imitation of strength.”

I’ve spoken about some personal incidents of racism in this blog, but recently, I’ve been able to pinpoint some things for myself.

From the 1970s to the 1990s, my life was about assimilation. I wanted to be white. I wanted to blend in to the Appalachian human fabric and disappear. During those years in the South, those around me often reminded me that I was different, strange, or simply “not normal.”

My mother tried to console me when these things happened, but after time, I realized that she truly did not know how I felt. My father, on the other hand, did to some degree.  As a Puerto Rican whose English was heavily accented, he had endured his share of racism. We spoke some but rarely about it.

I have spent my life longing to “fit in” racially. In Virginia, I found my two closest friends, Katherine and Adrienne, strong Asian women. I have blogged on how they taught me a great deal about Asian culture, another crucial step in my development.

What they lacked was the experience of being raised in a family where one feels racially out of place. Enter my next step in development … meeting two adult contemporary Korean adoptees.

We are just learning more about one another. In the coming days, I hope to share with you the continuing maturation of the person I haven’t fully known … myself.

Inspirational Children

Tonight, my son shared a video with me. His struggles with being happy in his own skin and his need to be accepted has been worrying me. He’s entering the age where one questions oneself and often takes on the attitudes of those around him.

As a parent, I know he must make the journey, but having gone down the same road, I know the conflicts he will face. He has faced some in the past … being called “Chinese” (not that China is bad, but it is often said in a very derogatory way). I explain that such references only means that the speaker is uneducated about the different Asian races.  While I say this as neutrally as possible to him, I cannot deny that it puts a pit in my stomach as it did when the same was said to me as a young girl.

I was called “Chinese” as well as “Cambodian Refugee,” and children would pull their eyes into slants to mock me.  In gym, I was paired with the only other Asian child, a boy, during square dances. While I struggled to just fit in, I was always reminded that I was different. I was not white, nor did I have a plain Jane name.  I wanted to blend into the background; I wanted to be white or black, for those were the two races in my hometown. I wanted desperately to fit in.

Before our decision to become parents, my husband and I talked about my childhood and what we could do to save our children from the heartaches I had felt in rural Tennessee.  We decided that we would always live in a racially diverse community. We chose the Wisconsin home we did because of the racial make-up of its public schools.

As my boy entered middle school this fall, we felt we had done all we could to make sure he would blend in. But in reality, we have learned that no matter what we do, there will be children who want to belittle others. No matter what we, as parents, have done, we cannot protect them fully from the growing pains of bullying and belittling.

What we have done is made sure that he knows that he is well-loved and that he is beautiful just the way he is. Tonight, I realized as I watched this video with him that he not only knows he’s special in his own way, but that he sees that he is not alone. He understands the lyrics of this Lady Gaga song, and he felt a kinship with this little girl.

This is just the kind of performance I needed to see … shared by my boy.

The Latino side

I don’t often write about my Latino side. Usually, I forget about it unless someone whom I have never met in the flesh reminds me with a casual “Hola” or “Hasta Luego”.

Last night on the eve of 2009, I was reminded of the prejudice against the Latino community.

Our town of Charlottesville has a First Night celebration every year. Various groups perform, and my son performed with his Taekwon-Do group. As a perk, the group was offered entry buttons for the participants. However, in a misunderstanding, the buttons were not delivered to the school before the event.

After the performance, our family accompanied my son’s instructor, the leader of the group, over to the registration area for First Night. The Taekwon-Do instructor is a young, Latino man. The executive director of the event informed the instructor that if he hadn’t gotten the buttons beforehand then they had none for him now. While that my have been true to some degree, she was unusually curt. I sensed that she felt that the instructor was trying to pull something. She kept giving him excuses and saying she was not authorized to give him buttons.

At this stage, I stepped forward and told her that our family had already bought buttons for the rest of us, but not for the two who had been promised buttons. She then said she would see what she could do. In the meantime, a more friendly volunteer coordinator walked over and tried to help as well.

The executive director did return with 25 buttons for our group. But I do wonder what motivated her at first to resist helping our young, Latino instructor. Was it doubt? Was it skepticism? Was it prejudice? While I will never know for sure, I did sense some of the indescribable feelings that I’ve had in my own small Tennessee hometown. Feelings my father expressed when he visited the very caucasian Colorado.

It’s a feeling of being outside of a group. A feeling of not belonging. A feeling of being excluded.