“Are you the nanny?”
It’s a question I have had to answer more than once since the birth of my son. You see, he doesn’t really look like me. Sure upon close inspection one can see similarities, but mostly he looks like his dad, and we don’t have the same skin tone.
I am of Mexican descent. I have naturally tanned skin that gets even darker in the summer. My son came out very fair skinned, like his dad with similar features to his dad.
We are living in an ever increasing multicultural, multiethnic, and multiracial society. I have grown up in a very ethnically diverse family. I have cousins, aunts, and uncles of many different races, cultures, and ethnicities. And I know I’m not alone.
Our Multicultural County
According to the Pew Research Center, “The share of multiracial children is growing at an even faster rate. In 1970, among babies living with two parents, only 1% had parents who were different races from each other. By 2013, that share had risen to 10%.7 Today, nearly half (46%) of all multiracial Americans are younger than 18.”
As we moms know, kids are attuned to seeing differences with each other. It’s part of human nature.
The first time my son saw a Chinese-American girl he reached out to touch her eyes. He immediately noticed that her eyes were a different shape from his own. I was a bit embarrassed that he would immediately try and grab her eyes. But he was only about a year old.
Luckily, her mother laughed it off which in turn helped me to laugh it off. I sat next to my son and the other little girl and her mother, and began a dialogue with my son. “Yes those are her eyes! They are nice eyes aren’t they?”
The other mother and I started discussing our cultural heritages and backgrounds in front of our children. She was Chinese-American and her husband identified as Indian. Her child looked more like her than her husband. I shared that I am Hispanic Mexican-American and my husband is Irish, German, Greek and Swedish. My son looks more like his father than me. It was wonderful and I saw a beautiful future in that moment.
We were able to have a great discussion about some of our traditions and customs as well as discuss what it is like to blend many cultures and try and ensure our children don’t forget where they come from.
One thing we lamented however was that even in today’s multicultural society, people have still said inappropriate things to us or to our children about our ethnicities.
So, how do we approach the subject with our children?
How do we ensure their curiosities about each other’s differences are answered in a respectful way? How do we help to change society to be more accepting of our differences in appearance and cultures?
I am by no means an expert, but here are some things I have done with my growing son and will continue to do as he ages. Hopefully these ideas are useful to you as well and can help us all to navigate our multicultural society.
- Attend multicultural fairs with your kids. Lots of schools have them and they are a great way to show your children exposure to many cultures at once. If your school doesn’t have one, maybe get it started at your kid’s campus.
- Read books about different races and cultures.
- Listen to music from different countries.
- Watch shows that encourage differences between each other. Lots of children’s programming on PBS does a great job of this in my opinion. I particularly love the way Sesame Street handles differences in children.
- Don’t be afraid to celebrate holidays from other cultures. Chinese New Year, Dia De Los Muertos etc.
- Work on a family tree that explores your entire cultural history.
- Attend city wide cultural events. With St. Patrick’s Day just around the corner, the Austin St. Patrick’s Day festival is a perfect place to start.
- Learn to ask the right questions of others when discussing their heritage. Example: instead of asking “where are you from?” Ask “what is your cultural heritage?” Also NEVER ask someone “what are you?” Because the correct answer will always be “human.”
- Don’t use ambiguous words to describe someone else. Example- saying someone is “exotic” is odd. The definition of exotic means not native which can be pretty offending so someone who is indeed native to this country.
- Normalize differences. An easy way to do this is to expose your children to people of different ethnicities and cultures. Look around at your group of friends or your family. If your group is mostly homogeneous, maybe find ways to introduce yourself to people who are not like you. Make friends with people who are different from you, and you will not only enrich your children’s lives, but your own.