Tag Archives: racism

A Tale of Two Families

Our circle trip began late this July. We were on a mission, two families in ten days … my family in Tennessee, and my husband’s in Canada.

The trip began gleefully with a music mix from my friend, Amy. The first day of driving was shortened by a stay at an Indiana horse ranch. After a couple of nights and a trail ride, we were back on the road to Tennessee.

At first, I had extreme hesitation. While I love my family, I do not love the closed minds and prejudices in Tennessee. We began with the stark contrast of Adult World and the huge cross along the interstate.

 (If you cannot view this, please see it here: http://mothermade.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-two-families.html)

The anxiety began to creep in and cover me just as the kudzu drapes and kills the trees in Tennessee. Racist memories from my childhood flooded my mind. I took deep breaths so as not to alarm my kids. Since having children, I worry about their well being, and more specifically, their racial identities.

The conversation in the car began.

“Who are we seeing in Tennessee? Are we going to Papito’s house (my father)?” the kids asked.

“We are not going to Papito’s house. We’ll be staying in Knoxville, where your dad and I met. And you will be meeting your Puerto Rican cousins today,” I answered.

“When are we going to Canada? How long do we have to stay in Tennessee?” the kids continued.

“We will be in Tennessee for a few days, and then we will meet up with your cousins in Canada,” my husband answered.

The conversation then moved on to my husband’s family. Canada is home to his aunt. She and her husband own a lake cottage where we had planned to meet my in-laws for their 50th wedding celebration; however, due to my father-in-law’s recent health decline, my husband’s sister and her family would be the only Brits coming to the party. The kids asked about their relatives across the pond. They all talked happily about similarities. My husband spoke of how our daughter reminded him of his sister at her age. Other biological family traits were bestowed on the kids, and they beamed.

I felt myself receding. My kids weren’t interested in seeing my Puerto Rican family as much as they wanted to see my husband’s. Granted, we haven’t seen my Puerto Rican family in more than five years. Plus, there is the language barrier. But I must admit, I felt slighted. My son does not identify with his Puerto Rican family, but my daughter does. I want desperately for my children to feel the love that I have felt from my family.

The Puerto Ricans, also known as the “Gonzos,” are my family. When someone asks me where I would like to live, I say Puerto Rico. With this side of my family, I feel sudden comfort and security. The Gonzos talk about my son’s resemblance to our great-grandfather. The Gonzos kiss and hug and dance. Boy, do they dance.

We met my father and my cousins, Missiel and Kike, in Tennessee and went to Dollywood. Missiel and I reminisced about their childhood visits to Tennessee and teased Kike. I learned my Spanish pronunciation from my cousins in our backyard. My children stood on the periphery. Missiel and Kike have two children each. Kike’s daughter followed my daughter and wanted to bond with her.

The boys played a little at first.

And my father encouraged more play together as they all sifted for treasure.

While things were going well, most times, my kids still clung to one another.

Then, we found the perfect ride to unite all children … against the grown-ups.

 (If you cannot view this, please see it here: http://mothermade.blogspot.com/2013/08/a-tale-of-two-families.html)

As the boys played and joked, Missiel leaned over to me and said, “Noah is a Gonzo! He and Andreas have the same motions!” All the tension and anxiety within me suddenly slid off, and I felt just as I always have when I am with my family … loved.

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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.

The Success Story

Dr. Raible’s words still echo at different points in my days and weeks. One very powerful set of statements keeps playing.

“We are the success stories. But how many of the other stories were silenced by suicide?”

Here’s an account of such a story that was almost silenced.

He was twelve. Another school year was beginning. A new year, a new grade, and an abundance of promises … new books, new teachers, new subjects.

The regulars were present, too … friends, last year’s acquaintances and the same old halls. But this year, everyone was changing … physically, socially, emotionally. Some he considered friends became distant. Some began telling him that his race would exclude him from the relationships they all wanted. The “going together” moniker would be coveted but never his.

He was approached by strangers in the park who would taunt him with words that cut. The seemingly innocuous word, “Chinese” would be said with malice. There would be the pulling of eyes to assimilate his physical racial feature. He felt surrounded by a hate that he did not understand.

The words of others ridiculing him rang through his head. He wanted to hide. He felt alone. He felt he couldn’t tell his parents because they would never understand what it was like to live in his skin.

One night, he waited. He waited to hear the soft quiet of his sister’s sleeping sounds. He waited as his parents ascended the stairs to their bedroom. He could hear them brushing teeth and chatting as they readied themselves for sleep. Then, there was silence.

Quietly, he got out of bed. He took a cord and draped it in his closet. Sobbing softly, he wrapped the cord around his neck. He hoped this would numb the pain of the last few months. He hoped it would silence the voices and darken the images of kids slanting their eyes. He hoped it would give him peace. 

As the cord tightened, he sensed a darkness. Unconsciousness washed over him. Then, he opened his eyes. It was dawn. The cord lay on the floor, broken. His tears had dried. Something in him gave him resolve. He rose, got dressed and began another day.

In the days to come, he would talk with his mother about these racial comments. She would console him and try to work through the pain of the words.

His mother would never know the events that lead up to these discussions. She gave her love and advice, but he would keep this secret with him until many months later when his strength had returned.

His is a success story unlike those of us, the adoptee panelists, to whom Dr. Raible referred. The adoption community is awakening; discussions on race are finally becoming relevant, without suspicions or feelings of resentment.

The Korean American Adoptive Family Network recently blogged on the reluctance of our children to talk about issues of race with those they love the most … their families. You can find this blog post here.

Let’s keep the conversation going and add to the number of success stories.