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Hapa

09. 24. 2009

Friends of ours recently gave us the book Part Asian, 100%Hapa.  It’s a pretty cool little volume in which there are simple, stark faceshots of people who identify as mixed descent and their responses to the question “What are you?” that they likely receive on a daily basis.  Of course, my kids will have to deal with this as well, especially as both of them appear very blended and are not immediately identifiable as one particular ethnicity.  Part of me thinks that as time goes on, this will become less of an issue as more mixed couples have children.

A bigger question I ask, though, is what ethnic culture are we raising our children in? How do I want them to understand what it means to be Indian? What does that even mean to me?  Growing up, I never really had a lot of Indian friends, despite living in a very diverse community.  I often found that the younger generation of Indian kids often had a lot of the same restrictive boundaries that I felt the older culture to have.  The community can be very disapproving if someone does not fit into a relatively narrow box.

As children, my parents would drag my sister and I to various celebrations and events.  These were largely meaningless to me then as religious events and really were more of an excuse for a social gathering.  I cannot tell you what one does for Diwali other than light firecrackers, nor what one does for Holi other than throw paint on other people (which was really fun, the one time I did it).  Neither Eric nor I are religious people in the least, and I don’t think that taking the kids to Temple would acheive anything since, quite frankly, I couldn’t tell them what was going on. While I speak Marathi (just Google it if you don’t know what it is) and can even sort of read the Devanagari script, I’m far from fluent and wouldn’t be able to teach the kids the language.  I’ve learned most of my Indian mythology from picture books that I’ve read to the kids.

Many of the blogs and articles I came across while doing a quick Google search on the topic deal with (most often) black/white children and the one that I found about an Indian/White child involved a man who was an Indian immigrant, which doesn’t really apply to me.  Most of the other ones I found I just don’t relate to. There seems to be a fair amount of literature for children who are adopted across cultures/races, but not as much for first-generation kids raising children with a partner of another race.

There are clearly things that I was raised with that I want my children to have. Among other things: a respect for your elders, a respect for family, a respect for education, and of course the delicious food!  I want my kids to travel to India and know what it is like there.  Is that “Indian enough”? Or does it not really matter in the ever more blended society we are inching towards?

This post is woefully inadequate in terms of all the issues I’d like to bring up, but is long enough already so I’ll table those thoughts for another time.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Geoff permalink
    09. 25. 2009 11:53

    The only suggestion I would have, as far as bringing your respective cultures and heritage into their life, is that it’s okay not to be an expert yourself. As you said, you’ve learned a lot of the Indian mythology by reading books with them. It’s okay to be learning at the same time as them, and maybe you just keep pursuing that. Think about what part of your culture you like, and try to bring more of that into the house. Obviously the holidays are not top on the list, and well, if they are, then just read up on them, ask you family about them and start celebrating it with just the four of you, y’know? And with the language, my mom would always throw in german phrases when i was a kid, tiny little things, but it made an impact. start saying little things to them in marathi and explain it to them.

    Ugh, i just reread that and I feel like I’m lecturing you, but i’m just rambling off thoughts and they are coming of like that. Just ideas is all they are. The fact that your kids look mixed race is obviously something i have no experience with, but everything else your talking about is not necessarily unique. I want to talk about my father (who helped define my culture & history) to my kids and need to figure out a way to do that, so that they have some idea of who he was. I want to open their eyes to other cultures, to our own cultures, to Indian culture. I’ll let them chose what to identify as (to paraphrase the book you mentioned). You could also say that anything that is important to us, we want to expose to our kids, even if it might seem like a chore.

    and as far as the community disapproving of you not being pigeonholed? baby, you’ve made it this far! why stop now! 🙂

  2. 09. 25. 2009 17:24

    Hi, I am new to your blog. Lisa just sent me an email and asked me if I have any thoughts that might be useful to you. My husband is Asian American (American born Chinese) and I am white. We have one daughter who is biracial and one who is adopted from China. I used to write about this stuff a lot on my blog. You can find old posts in my category archives.

    When our first daughter was young, we struggled with the same issues you mention here. Over time, we have tried to figure out exactly what aspects of Chinese culture are important to us. To complicate things, my husband’s family didn’t do a very good job transmitting much Chinese culture to him in the first place (didn’t speak chinese at home, didn’t celebrate most holidays etc.) so in some ways we were starting from scratch.

    Together, we decided we really wanted to prioritize Chinese language for our girls, but since neither of us are fluent that means we have to hire tutors and send our kids to Chinese school each Sunday. Chinese school is hard because most of the other parents there are immigrants, but at the very least the girls are gaining familiarity with other Chinese American kids in our area. We have also made friends with two other families who are similar to ours, which makes it easier. We usually celebrate a few major Chinese holidays and we like Chinese food, so those add a little bit of cultural exposure too.

    One of the best books I read on parenting biracial kids is Does Anybody Else Look Like Me (http://www.amazon.com/Anybody-Parents-Raising-Multiracial-Children/dp/0738206059). Back when our daughter was really small and we were just starting to figure things out, I found that book to be very helpful.

    It is easy to get wrapped up in worrying about what is “enough”, but I have decided that we will do what comes easy to us and adds value to our family life. We are trying to give the girls the tools they need and enough familiarity in case they choose to explore their Chinese (or Chinese American) identity more as they grow up.

    The fact is, our kids are going to be second and third generation Americans. They will likely identify mostly as American or Asian American rather than Chinese and that is ok. As long as they are proud of who they are, then we have done the right thing.

  3. 09. 25. 2009 18:50

    Obviously, on the racial identity side, my struggle is with the transracial adoption aspect. Though I think you know I would be thinking about this just as much if my children were white, just differently ; )
    But I have also been thinking some things similar to Geoff’s comments and trying to formulate them the last few days. I identify very much as Scottish. I grew up surrounded by relatives, including my grandfather and his mother (who was an active part of my life-I was 24 when she died at the age of 96)who grew up in the Gaelic speaking countryside on the island of Cape Breton. In addition to my daughter’s Chinese heritage and my son’s African heritage, I very much want my Scottish heritage to be part of our family-the Gaelic phrases that Grandma Jennie peppered everything with, and especially the afternoon tea (Scottish tea is nothing like British tea, btw)-when everyone’s doors are open and you go visiting. In Munro’s Point, the whole village would be going door to door, dropping in to sit, sip tea, eat shortbread and sweets, and chat a bit. In our family, on Saturday afternoons we made the rounds among all my grandfather’s siblings homes. And my g-grandmother would read our tea leaves to us children.
    I play Scottish fiddle and do some Scottish dancing, and I hope that these can be access points for my children, but I am also accepting that their childhood will just be different from mine. John’s grandparents were British immigrants on one side and Austrian Jews on the other, and that is very much part of the family culture with which he was raised-some of which will also pass on to our children.

  4. sapana permalink
    09. 28. 2009 01:20

    After reading this entry, I’ve had several thoughts about it…truth be told, most children don’t identify with a culture until they are faced with it. Often this isn’t until college, which is what I learned in a South Asian American Diaspora class that I took at Davis. While I grew up in a very South Asian infiltrated society, I still didn’t really identify with my Indian background until this point in my life. From my classes and friends, I did become more proud of my background and just more aware of who I am, culturally.

    While Mom and Dad were not ashamed of being Indian, they also didn’t pressure us to do anything super Indian either aside from a random convention every two years where we’d sneak out and discover the city instead. Actually, they might have pressured you more to be Indian since they shipped you to India to learn Marathi. After that was a failure, I think they decided it best for us to find ourselves. Dad never even spoke to us in Marathi; he always just knew that we’d come back to it from sharing news about India. I think eventually, that’s all you can hope for the girl and the boy.

    At the parties where we just socialized, M & D did take part in the pujas and artis that I still find super foreign and never really plan to conduct as a parent. I don’t think that’s part of losing culture, but maybe it’s a part of assimilation. While you learned about more about religion beyond our trips to india and these weird pujas as well as from the children’s lit, I’ve learned most of it from a Hinduism course I took at Davis. Like I said, a lot of the time people go in search for their background and it is possible to find it if there is an interest.

    All you can really hope is that the boy and the girl find that in themselves at some point in their lives. And, if people keep asking, “Where are you from?” I’m sure it will be a part of their development as human beings. Maybe now is a good time to think about your first family trip to India. 🙂 It’s really the only way to absorb and appreciate Indian culture even if that’s hard to see when you’re a kid. So hard.

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