“Your folks are surprisingly White.”
This was what one of my older son’s friends said after a sleepover at our house. The kid is White and enamored with all things Asian, so I couldn’t tell if his comment meant he felt comfortable in our home or if he was disappointed we didn’t go all ninja on him. And I’m not sure I understand why it continues to bother me.
No doubt, the statement was made without malice, an honest assessment from my son’s good friend. And I definitely have nothing against White people. So it must have something to do with my own insecurities as an immigrant parent, and the struggles I have with raising multi-cultural children. Admittedly, I want my sons to share my Filipino culture and values. Honestly, I’m not sure that’s entirely possible, or even realistic.
Fact is, we live in a community that is as diverse as it ever gets in Howard County. My sons’ friends come from families of various ethnic backgrounds, something I am grateful for. But it’s also something that challenges me. Every time.
[And I don’t just mean meal preparations. You know, because children talk about their favorite foods, and my children want to taste everything they hear about.]
It challenges me because I want my children to grow up with a deep appreciation of their Igorot/Chinese/Tagalog/Kapampangan roots, and most times I feel like the constant draw of everyday life wins over my (sometimes embellished) stories from our motherland.
So yesterday, I heard about the new TV show Black-ish from people whom I know share a similar sense of humor. Could be a modern The Cosby Show? Um, yea! So I watched the pilot, and I thought it was hilarious. And totally relatable. It also helped clarify my obsession with my son’s friend’s comment.
In a laugh-out-loud scene from the pilot, the twins of the titular family were discussing this weird girl from class. Andre, the dad, was lost trying to figure out who they meant, until he finally realized they were talking about the only other Black kid in their class. But his kids never thought to identify the girl based on race, becoming, in this instance, totally colorblind.
We’ve had so many other instances like that scene when my boys would tell me stories about their friends and classmates and I’d find myself waiting to see if they will identify these friends by their ethnic background. They never do, and for someone who grew up with regional stereotyping and cultural prejudices, it’s a major learning curve I have to twist and turn with. Colorblind children. Imagine that.
Raising my sons in a multicultural community in a suburb in the East Coast of America is quite the adventure. There is a good kind of tension, and a willingness to compromise, that has started to take over my own values and preferences. Often times, because my husband grew up in Maryland as well, I feel like my cultural boundaries are always being pushed past their limits. And many times, that actually reveals personal growth.
See, if I’m honest with myself, I would have to admit that a big part of the reason I want my sons to be able to speak Filipino, and know their Filipino culture, is because I don’t want them to be made fun of whenever we go home for visits. (You know, those Am-boys.) But then again, my family doesn’t even really speak Filipino. My niece and nephews speak English and Ilocano, and my parents speak those as well, and Ibaloi and Kankanaey.
So English is the happy middle, and so many times I have to remind myself to not worry over the fact that the few Filipino words my sons speak are spoken with an accent. Balut, after all, isn’t a hard word to understand.
Truth is, I just want them to fully experience life, and if that means embracing cultures and languages from other shores as well as their parents’ native one, then so be it. And as long as they respect where their parents come from (which they do) and are proud to be not just Asian but Filipino (which they are), then I’ve made progress.
At the end of the day, children are a product of their genes and their environment. What that looks like can be so far removed from what their parents looked like at every particular stage of maturity. But that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a bad thing. Sometimes, it can be a very good thing.