Parenting the “Other” Race Child

As a parent, your world revolves around your children. As much as it’s the greatest job in the world, it’s also one of the most difficult.

Parents make many decisions on a daily basis that affect their children. Recently, a couple from Canada revealed their child’s gender after concealing it for five years. They raised him in a gender-neutral environment with hopes that in doing so, it would allow him to develop his own personality and be who he wants to be, regardless of societal expectations. They revealed their son’s gender because they felt it would be too difficult to conceal now that he is starting school.

Some of the decisions we make for our children have the potential to be life-changing, so we make our decisions carefully and with their best interests in mind, and hope for the best. My family lives in a large and very diverse city. My sons are Mexican and Korean. They are too young to fully understand what it means to be biracial, but my husband and I are doing our best to ensure that our sons know who they are and where they came from.

A few years ago, we found a great elementary school for our oldest son, and we were so excited for him to start this new chapter in his life. I completed the enrollment application and met with a staff person at the student placement center. She took my son and me to a room where we introduced ourselves and she looked over our application. She told me everything looked good, but I needed to change my answer to the race question, where I had checked the Asian/Pacific Islander and Hispanic boxes. She slid the application across the table towards me, and proceeded to nonchalantly tell me that I was allowed to only check one race for my son. I told her that he was an equal percentage of both races, and asked her how I was expected to choose one for him. She then proceeded to tell me, “If you don’t choose one, I’ll make the decision for you.” I must have had a completely panicked—or absolutely livid—look on my face, because she told me I could take some time to decide, and then took my son to a different room for school readiness testing.

I remember sitting at the tiny round table with the tiny human chairs—my mind racing about a mile a minute. My husband and I had spent 5 years raising a proud, biracial son, and with one flick of my pen, I was expected to change my son’s racial identity in the eyes of the school system. In doing so, it felt like I was telling my son that half of his identity didn’t matter. Not wanting to allow a complete stranger to make such an important decision for my son, I checked the “Asian” box. My oldest son looks very Asian, and my youngest son looks more Latino. So, I decided that I would check the box for each of my sons that corresponded with their outer appearances. When my youngest son started school, I checked the “Hispanic” box for him.

It’s incredibly difficult being a parent of biracial children and raising them to be proud of their uniqueness, when society refuses to acknowledge who they are as a whole. Because they don’t fit neatly into that box, they will always have to choose one, or check “Other”, when answering the race question. I worry about the implications of this, as they grow and shape their own understandings of their racial identity. Sadly, my sons know more about their Mexican culture than they ever will of their Korean culture.

Being biracial will also most likely affect the interactions my sons have with other Asians. We live in an area that is heavily populated with single-race Asian families. When we are out in public, which is fairly often, my family endures angry stares and whispers from other Asians. I am a disgrace—an outcast—to the Asian community because I married outside of my race. I don’t know my language or culture of origin, which further drives the wedge between my family and the Asian community. We have experienced some of this with the Latino community, but they have been a lot more accepting of our biracial family.

Right now, my sons are completely oblivious to the stares and the whispers, but I know there will come a time when they will begin to realize what is happening. We won’t always be able to protect them from any potential backlash, but we will work hard to arm them with the tools to cope with being different in the eyes of people who look just like them.

Race does matter. My sons have a right to be proud of both of their races, but society and their school system tell them otherwise. The very institution that teaches my sons about race, culture, and diversity is the same institution that tells my biracial sons that they are only allowed to honor one of their races. Imagine a hospital telling a new mother of twins that she can only choose one to bring home with her. Imagine that hospital worker telling her that if she can’t decide, the decision will be made for her. I realize this is an extreme example, but the feeling of heartbreak you feel when imagining such a situation is the very feeling a parent of a biracial child feels when they are told their child is only allowed to identify as one race. It’s hurtful and potentially very damaging, and it needs to change.

We, as a society, have come a long way in terms of racial and cultural competence, but we have so much more to learn.

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10 thoughts on “Parenting the “Other” Race Child

  1. Kim Stevens says:

    That is not only ridiculously wrong, the school employee (and the entire school, I imagine) needs some high-test sensitivity and diversity training and fast! Great piece.

  2. Ellen liuzza says:

    Just found your site–it was linked to Dawn Davenport’s “Creating a Family”. Thanks for this piece! I understand how distressing this is, and wanted to mention that the most recent US census was the first in which an individual can identify themselves as multiracial. This is how they put it:

    “The Census Bureau collects race data in accordance with guidelines provided by the U.S. Office of Management and Budget and these data are based on self-identification. The racial categories included in the census questionnaire generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country, and not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically or genetically. People may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture, such as “American Indian and White.” People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish may be of any race.
    In addition, it is recognized that the categories of the race item include both racial and national origin or socio-cultural groups. You may choose more than one race category.
    Q. 11-9
    Mixed racial or ethnic heritage
    Will people of mixed racial heritage be able to identify themselves on the form?
    A. 11-9
    Each respondent may select one or more racial categories.
    The Office of Management and Budget, which has jurisdiction over this matter, made this decision after reviewing the results of the census tests and hearing recommendations from an Interagency Committee. ”

    I realize that may be waaaaayyy TMI, but I was very excited when I learned this–but of course it will take a while for this to flow into to our national consciousness!

  3. My husband and I moved to a somewhat rural neighborhood where Asians are the minority. I am Korean and my husband, who is Caucasian, has Italian and Czech heritage. Few years ago, I received a call from the school district to answer few questions about my children who will be of school age. The race question came up. Are they Asian or Caucasian? I stumbled not knowing how to answer. Since their last names were Caucasian, I answered Caucasian. I can even say that since Korean culture follow the paternal lineage, it sort of made sense. When I told my husband, he suggested that the children be categorized (in the school system) as Asian BECAUSE their MOTHER is Asian. Thinking about the reason for the categorization, maybe I should have stated Asian…because of its affect on the demographics (political, social, economical). One of my final thought was…Shouldn’t they update these forms or allow to select more than one race considering there are so many inter-racial children?

    • I am so sorry you had to go through that with your kids’ school, as well. I completely agree that the forms need to be updated to allow bi-racial children to be identified as such. It’s so frustrating!

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