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.

MLK DAY

So, it’s MLK Day. What are you going to do?

First off, let’s ask the question “Why should you do anything?” After all, it’s been a long year (17 days) already with numerous snow storms (no matter where in the country you live!), and today seems like the best day to sleep in, stay inside, and keep the pajamas on until morning.

And, as the Director of Intercultural Affairs, an office that lives by the mission of educating for social justice, challenging others beyond their own comfort zone, and being a social reminder of caring for others … that’s exactly what I’m doing today.

Props to my staff members who are working today, though. One is facilitating move-in for the remaining college students who stayed home to watch the game before returning back to school; The other is hosting a reflective exercise called Community Build which challenges participants to see the shared needs within a community.

Me? I’m here. I’m in my pajamas. And, with 20 degrees outside, slick ice and snow, and three small children, I’m going to stay here.

As a working mother who has no “cleaning crew” or “live-in nanny” or even children old enough to use cleaning solutions in the house, I use days off as a great time to catch up on household chores that will never get done during the work week. So, yes, as the director of intercultural affairs on MLK day, I will be doing 2 loads of laundry, getting meals ready for the week, and attempting to clean and vacuum my house in my pajamas.

But, be not fooled.

MLK Day is significant for me. It’s the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s work that most inspires me — not just his vision for human equality, but his passion for justice, peace, and shared love. I also use this day as a time to remember that Dr. King was not just about the feel good sentiments that are emphasized about his life. Be not fooled. Dr. King was incredible because of his unrelenting commitment, drive and action to call people — our country — out on its most horrific ideas and actions.

If you are inspired to leave the house today and engage in your community, nearly every single town (or at least a town nearby) hosts a Day of Service. Please, please open your local paper or go online to your town’s site and check out what has been arranged. If not a Day of Service, many organizations (churches, mostly) are hosting Teach Ins.

If, like me, you are unable to go out (not unwilling…but unable), here are a few ideas for the at-home version:

1. Get online and go to the King Center (www.thekingcenter.org) to read some of Dr. King’s sermons, teachings and writings.

2. Read this neat story from Clarence B. Jones, a friend and speechwriter for Dr. King, about his recollection of the “I Have a Dream” speech.

3. Spend 17 minutes and watch the original speech by Dr. King.

4. Flip through the photo images of Dr. King during the Civil Rights Movement

5. Crafty? Have your children trace and cut out paper in the shape of their open hand. Ask them “How might we be able to lend a helping hand each day?” Depending on their age, they might mention how they might help you — make their beds, clean up their toys, put their clothes away. Encourage them to then see how they might help others outside of your home — talking to a new friend at school, not wasting water, recycling paper. Let them color the hands in, post them in your house, and share with them that Dr. King believed that we are all responsible for lending a hand to others.

6. Want to know a bit more about what MLK believed and how timely it is for us now? Check out (an older) video from Ill Doctrine about 10 Other Things MLK Said. One of my favorites!

Do what you can. While some folks go all out on this day to engage in community service, some of us cannot.

MLK Day. It’s not a day off. It’s a day on.

JUDGING THE BOOK BY ITS COVER

I knew it right away. The title triggered me in way that made me want to run and hide, and read it at the same time. So, I guess for every PR firm, the ideal had occurred.

 

 

I sort of joke with my parents when I see them interact with my children, their grandchildren. When they come to the door, my parents immediately hug my children, tell them how much they love them, how much they have missed them since the last 24 hours when they saw them, and ask them what they’d like to eat/drink/play with/have.

 

“See,” I say to my daughter who secretly ‘wishes she was Grandma’s daughter’. “It’s so much better to be the grandchild than the daughter. When I was growing up, Grandma never told me she loved me.”

 

My kids don’t believe me.

 

They absolutely cannot believe that a world exists where their grandparents — my parents — didn’t explicitly say they loved me or my siblings. They don’t believe that we never held hands with my parents, never received a hug or a “good job”, and never felt like we were good enough.

 

They will never know the grandparents — my parents — who told us we were too fat, not smart enough, or that we were too lazy. They will never know the people who said that a 98% on a test included a 2% failure. They will never know the people who stated that if we had 20 minutes to watch television, then we had 2 hours to practice piano, violin, or study more.

 

 

So, when I saw the title in the WSJ that “Chinese Mothers are Superior”, I cringed. I knew exactly what it would be. It would be in praise of discipline, structure, and intentional activity. It would criticize the praising of children, the emphasis on play and imagination, and the over affection that many Western parents show by calling their children “little buddy” or “pal” or giving them a “good job” at every mediocre event.

 

I knew I would be faced with my own upbringing by Asian immigrants and my knowledge of Western child development.

 

In simply reading the excerpt from the WSJ, I knew that each of Chua’s examples would be pulled from my own life. I also knew that my children would never be able to relate to her stories. For, after all, I am not a Superior Chinese Mother.

 

I am, however, to borrow from my friend Delia, a “kick ass Asian American parent.”

 

My children — ages 7, 4 and 1 — are disciplined. They have been taught to respect their elders and their peers. They have not been allowed to give up in any situation, even if they do not like the activity. We have signed them up for soccer, karate, gymnastics, and even new schools. And, despite their early protests at each one of these events, I have never let them quit. I’ve emphasized lessons in perseverance and seeking a positive lesson out of a negative experience.

 

But, they have also been hugged, told they were worth love, and encouraged. They have been told that 98% is awesome and that they are as interesting — if not more interesting — than some of my friends.

 

They see me experience emotions: crying at commercials, laughing at movies, and yelling at the television. They hear me dialogue with my husband, sometimes agreeing but mostly disagreeing. But, most importantly, they have been encouraged to do the same. They have argued with me, told me they were upset, and demonstrated ranges of joy.

 

And, every morning and every night, no matter what happens, they are hugged and kissed.

 

Of course, once the WSJ article made its way sufficiently around the internet, people quickly came to Chua’s defense. Not in defense of what was written, but in defense of what was not written. She told of the lessons that were learned — the similar lessons that I, too, learned as a parent — of acknowledging the way we were raised and moving forward.

 

Though the air has been cleared, one of the greatest things the mis-representation of the Chua excerpt has raised is awareness of the pressures of the model minority myth. Asian American youth have one of the highest suicide rates, and many adults have come out to say that they, too, had considered the pressures of growing up under unrelenting expectations.

 

 

Enough conversations (both online and in person) have occurred about the pain and consequences of the model minority expectations. And, thankfully, the article helped to spark the conversation and keep it on the forefront of our awareness.