Tuesday, September 29, 2015


I have bicultural kids. 
Have I ever mentioned that before?

It's very interesting, this idea of biculturalism. 
Random strangers have come up to me and commented on my kids. 
"They're mixed!" They say.
Or, "Is their dad White?"
Or, "Can they speak Korean?"

Sometimes -particularly if they themselves have bi- (or tri- or quadra -) cultural kids - they even engage me in lengthy discussions on dominant vs. recessive genes or whether they emerged at birth with hair that color.

Or - and not just once - I was even encouraged to "have more children because they're so beautiful!" 

Total strangers.
In Target. 
Or the parking lot.
On in line for snacks at the pool.

I accept their compliments and get on with my errands. In a place like Minnesota, where folks are - frustratingly - vague, a break from phatic communion is sometimes refreshing. I do not get offended - these people might have been overly effusive and a tad TMI but they had not meant any harm. Besides, if you have bicultural kids, you will understand that there are far more pertinent issues in their lives than hair color and at what age their features began to morph towards one direction of their ethnic heritage over the other. 

Like how rich their lives may be because they have influences from two (or more) countries of origin, languages, cuisines, climates, faiths, political worlds.

And how these multiple viewpoints can also bring conflict when they're trying to define their concept of home and identity. Everyone, irrespective of their cultural heritage, is going to have to figure themselves out someday, but multicultural kids have that extra layer of drama to add to the mix - those invisible threads woven into their very psyche, which make their individual lives as global and national and other as they are personal.

Like how similar they are to their friends whose parents grew up in the same small town in northern Minnesota, and also how similar they are to their other friends who've moved here from India, or Russia, or New York, or Virginia. And how, at the same time, how different they are from the neighbors next door, simply because their parents are unique individuals with unique parenting styles and personalities.

Do I love having bicultural kids?
Over having non-bicultural kids? 
No. I don't know; I've never had any other kind.

Do I feel obliged to teach them the language of my country of origin (not Korea, by the way)? 
Uh, we speak English in Singapore. Quite well, in fact, when we feel like it (other times we use a horrendous mix of English and our three other national languages that often and immediately -albeit unintentionally - makes visitors feel acutely left out of entire conversations). That particular pidgin form of English I don't care to teach my children, thank you very much.

Do I feel obliged to enroll them in a Chinese-immersion school so they can communicate with their maternal grandparents in Singapore?
Let's see. . . do you mean the grandparents who speak English (and at least two other languages), watch MLB on cable, bake apple pies and pastries and roasts and boast a formidable collection of music LPs from the days of Bob Dylan, Elvis, Abba, Loretta Lynn and Mitch Miller? I don't believe that might be necessary.

My children may be bicultural by birth, but they're going to have to grow into that mantle their own way and in their own time, and find out what it means to have feet planted in two worlds. It will be a fantastic journey. And they might be surprised to discover there are more of them - kindred spirits - out there than they might have initially thought.

Kate has been watching me make my new line of multicultural Owie Dolls this week. She's asked if she could request a custom order, as her sisters have Owie Dolls and she doesn't.

"I want mine to have fair skin, green eyes and tan hair," she'd dictated. 

"So she'll look just like you?" I'd wondered aloud, half in jest.

"Yup," she'd replied, utterly sincere.

Oh, to be seven again.

Some years back, before any of my kids were in school, I'd wondered if I might one day have The Conversation with them - you know, the one about how they look different from the other kids at school. 

It hasn't happened yet. 

Their classrooms are filled with children from so many different cultures that everyone is different from everyone else. How fabulous. And I especially love that, with many of those kids, I can't even tell by looking at them, what their ethnicity is, or if their parents were from the same village in China, or Norway, or both, or if their skin tone is that way because they were blessed with it from birth, of if they are merely holding on to the lingering effects of the summer sun. 

In a world without borders, it seems even our classrooms - microcosms of the larger community - are changing. 

Yesterday, I stuffed sixteen doll arms. Kate saw them, held her own arm against the disembodied limbs and commented, "I don't match any of these."

Maybe not, but somewhere on the planet - or down the street - someone has a skin tone that might. And, unlike these dolls, whose culturalism is literally only skin-deep, those folks have just-as-colorful lives to accompany it.

P.S. Almost forgot to mention the purpose for all these disembodied arms: rumor has it that the new Owie Doll kits will be available in early October. And possibly seven new dolls in the shop. I'll keep you posted!


  1. What a beautiful post! I wish everyone thought as you do about races and skin colors, etc. We're all human beings, regardless.

    I got a good giggle about Kate's not matching. :)

  2. A lovely post. I know a bi-racial family where the white husband was asked on the playground "where he got his kids from?" He replied - "From my wife's uterus." Classic!

  3. Love your post. As a Puerto Rican I can relate. Here in Puerto Rico almost everyone is a mixed race. Plus my mom grew up in the USA so culturally at home it was a bit different than the neighbors. Then I married a Puerto Rican who grew up in the USA and had two girls ( independent women by now). It's beautiful to see how cultures and races get mixed to create unique individuals and wonderful human beings.

  4. My children are biracial; my daughter takes after my very white husband and my son takes after his very Indian mother. If we are not together as a family we do get the "where did you get him/her from?" question often. We've had that dominant gene conversation more often than we can recall. Not to mention the myriad of strangers telling us to expand our family because "Mixed kids are so beautiful!" I feel you, sister!

  5. Just two comments; I have bright red hair, my parents both are brunettes. When I was two my mother was asked if she dyed my hair. Second, I grew up in San Diego, in a poorer neighborhood and went to school with children of all colors. I thought that was the way the world was until I went to Junior High in another part of town and found out differently. I missed my friends from elementary school. (This was in the sixties.) I believe that there is only one race--the human race--and we come in an astonishing array of sizes, shapes and colors. Thank goodness too, because if we didn't we'd be a pretty boring looking group.

  6. When my daughter was younger, she knew that Mummy was Chinese and Daddy was Australian. When asked what she was, her answer was "normal"... of course!

  7. I'm the proud grandma (Oma) of three kids who between them have Malay Chinese, Irish/Australian, New Zealand and Dutch blood. They sport bits of everything, from almost black eyes and straight jet black hair to blonde curls with light brown eyes (no blue eyes yet, though). The middle one has her dad's intelligence, the eldest has his mum's love of sports, and both show their (adpoted) grandparents' incredible people skills and caring. Love 'em all to bits!

  8. I especially love it when people tell me what a benefit/gift it is that my kids speak English. There's a reason it's called a "mother tongue", people. What else would I speak to them? This is not about giving them a heads start on highschool grades.
    Being invisibly bi-cultural may turn out to be interesting. We'll see; my kids are only 7 and 3. I have to wonder if biculturalism might make adolescence easier, rather than harder, because the kids don't have to spend quite as much time teasing out self from dominant culture - these are fish who darn well know they're wet.

  9. I've always been tempted to slap back to questions like "What's your husband?" with something ridiculous like "He's a giraffe" or "Is he yours?" with "I just picked him up on sale at the mall".

    And of course this starts even during pregnancy: I got asked "do you hope your child will look more asian or white"? Err...I hope my child looks like me and/or my husband ...?

  10. I hope my children are healthy was the usual answer.
    I get this. My inlaws are obsessive on the topic (positively, but still obsessive). I want people to be curious and hopeful and yeah, maybe they have to ask really really dumb questions (the only stupid question is the one you didn't ask..) BUT
    Can we get to the next questions?
    I just want more community building. And I'm glad that my kids care about the similarities and accept the differences.

  11. Wonderful! I can't imagine a world without all our beautiful, colorful people! It is nearly impossible to match skin tones to fabric because we are all a mix of color tones. Thank you!

  12. Diversity is what makes the world so amazing, and appearances are only a small piece of who we are. My kids are very lucky to go to a school with classmates from all over the world. The mix of cultures, languages, and backgrounds makes for an amazing school experience.

    I have siblings who constantly get asked "what" they are. We don't have an ancestry to point to, but then when I did genetic testing for a blog campaign I did come up with West African genes - just enough for a great-great grandparent (or a couple of great-great-great grandparents) somewhere. Then my sister did the same genetic testing and came up with African genes as well as a bunch of genes from Asia - and she has been asked if she is part Asian something or other. I had a lot more Scandinavian genes (a known ancestry) than she did, and I do look more Scandinavian-ish. We share the same family line, but when she was born she inherited genes from parts of the world that I missed out on - and vice versa. Even when we shared ancestry, many of the actual genes were different - so we both inherited West African traits - but the ones I inherited were different from the ones she inherited. It was an interesting look into gene expression. I do wonder if the reason we don't have known ancestries from these areas is due to racism issues / anti-miscegenation laws, and that would be a very sad reason to lose part of a heritage. I do like the idea of ancestors choosing to marry in spite of those laws.

    1. MaryAnne: I had to google "miscegenation" - I learned a new word today!

      I've never had genetic testing done, but would love to find out if I have more diversity in me than I look like I do. And yes, one wonders about why some origins are more well-known than others - could be stigma, as you said, or could be that they were from farther back in the timeline than the ones that show more visible evidence in you and your siblings.

      I suspect that I'd be surprised at what I'd find out about my own heritage through gene testing. As we're slowly figuring out, we're hardly ever just mono-, or even bi-ethnic. We're all kinds.

  13. Oh gosh. I always read, almost never comment, but I just had to today.

    Thanks for this post. My children are also half Caucasian, half Chinese (on my husband's side). In our small town they *do* look very different from nearly everyone else, but I think we're doing a pretty good job (so far) of making sure that doesn't matter to them. One thing I noticed recently is that my older son - who has by FAR the fairest skin of the four children - drew a picture for curriculum night in which he has quite dark skin. He mixed brown and yellow to create his flesh tone. Totally inaccurate, but I wondered if it isn't because he's accustomed to looking at his darker siblings, and just assumes that he, too, has non-Caucasian-looking skin.

    Finally, that whole "have more kids because they're beautiful" thing really is SO stupid. But since they really are beautiful, I always manage to take it in the spirit in which it was said. :)

  14. When my son first started school I would ask " who did you play with today?" His response has always made me smile " I played with the vanilla girl, cinnamon boy and chocolate boy"
    He didn't know their names or recognize ethnicity. We are an Asian/ American family and I have encountered my share of questions. I was even mistaken as their nanny:)

  15. Just piping in to say how much I enjoyed this post (and the photos!). I am fortunate to teach in a wonderfully diverse classroom.

  16. I really liked you post and I think it's really important that kids get the chance to grow up in a diverse society.
    I had some bi-cultural friends while growing up and mostly one of the kids looked more like the mother and the other one like the father. I knew a lot of people found it strange that my friend didn't resemble her older sister. But if there's no difference in skin color no one seems to care. My brother and I are both white and we look nothing alike. Even people who know that we are brother and sister occasionally forget it, but we would never get a comment about it.

    Thanks for the great post and an amazing blog!


  17. That was beautiful. Thanks for sharing.


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