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On Having Mixed Race Children

October 22, 2008

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Prompted by Colorblind Cupid to consider the emotions involved in having mixed race children, I remembered when one of my husband’s cousins came over to see our new baby.  We had just come home from the hospital.  (This was in Japan.  My husband is Japanese-Peruvian.)  She lived in the same apartment building as we did.  I sat in a chair nursing my newborn daughter and the cousin sat on our sofa and watched me.  She doesn’t have children, so she was curious what it was like to be a new mom.  She asked me, “Doesn’t it feel disappointing or uncomfortable when you look at your daughter?  Aren’t you sad that your baby doesn’t look like your family?” I thought her questions were rude, and I blushed when I tried to answer them.

I also was questioned by curious Japanese coworkers during my pregnancy.  One of my coworkers is married to an Italian man, but they don’t have any children.  Mixed race children are unusual in Japan, although immigrants from Brazil and Peru give teachers the opportunity to see a few in their classes.  From what I could tell they are considered beautiful in an exotic way. The problem that I encountered often in trying to explain my choice to have a mixed race child is that “American” often means “white.”  Then people would panic about our children’s last name or how they would “fit in” among “Americans.”

My dad is most likely Melungeon, although he hasn’t had the genetic testing done, so anyway there is the fact that I am not “pure” in my whiteness to begin with.  I don’t feel like I have messed up our family’s lineage by producing mixed race children.  I don’t think it bothers my parents either, but it’s really awkward for my husband at big family events because almost everyone has blue eyes except him.  Once he has practiced conversing in English for 20 years or so, I think his self-confidence will matter much more than his self-consciousness about differences in ethnicity.  He knows that he has unique stories to tell, he just needs more practice in telling them.

We thought our daughter was lovely and never questioned how dark her skin would be.  We knew her eyes and hair would be dark, but her skin color did not end up very dark.  It’s not something that we are thankful for, it just is what it is.  Although she did not look much like me when she was first born, as she grows she looks more and more like me.  And now we see that our son’s skin color is even lighter than our daughter’s, but again it is not something to be proud of.  There are people of many shades in my husband’s family.

I think my interracial-intercultural marriage was more of a shock to me than seeing our mixed raced children.  My husband hasn’t had the same kind of exposure to feminism or read the same kind of ground-breaking literature as I have.  That causes friction in our marriage, and I think it has sent me down a path of conservative feminism where I must embrace my role as a homemaker and educator and primary caregiver.  I think if I had married someone who had different values than my husband does, I would have gone down the path of egalitarian feminism and found other ways of realizing my dreams.  I’ve had to accommodate his expectations of me as a wife and as a mother.  I feel like I’ve given up a lot, and sometimes I resent it.  So I waffle between holding a grudge that I am a stay at home mom and embracing the gift that my husband gives me.  I try to view staying at home as a privilege.  After all, he wants me to make the majority of our choices, like what brand of detergent to buy or how to decorate our rooms.  And he’s been to two Ani DiFranco concerts with me, so that definitely works in his favor and inspires me to keep exposing him to feminist ideas.  He’s trying to make me a better housekeeper and cook while I’m trying to make him a better feminist.  Hmmm . . .

Our menu is mainly Peruvian suppers and American breakfasts and lunches.  Our children are used to foods like lomo saltado, mangoes and avocados and also pancakes and sandwiches.  I think they eat pretty well.  They like Japanese miso soup and Peruvian-style chicken soup.  My son likes to taste sips of Inca Cola and of coffee.  He doesn’t mind when our food is a little spicy.  There are also many foods that are common in both American cuisine and Peruvian cuisine like mashed potatoes, salads and fried fish.

I felt good about breastfeeding my children because of my husband’s encouragement.  It was what worked for us both.  It kept me tethered to home and made me miserably sweaty and engorged if I dared to take a short trip away.  When my daughter was 6 weeks old I went back to teaching and my husband stayed home with her.  I had to finish my contract so that we could keep my income and the apartment where we were living.  He fed her pumped breastmilk in bottles while I was at the high school.  Sometimes one of his sisters would drive them to school to sneak in a feeding during my lunch or planning period.  We only had to do that for 3 months.  When my contract ended, so did the bottle feeding.  We were able to move to the United States, and he became responsible for earning our income.  That’s when the gender-based division of labor really became apparent.

What bothers me about my husband’s attitude toward me is that whenever I do something like shave my legs or paint my nails, he thinks I have done it for him.  He concludes that I bought a pretty apron for his sake, not mine.  Or he thinks that he can tell me what to wear (he wants me to wear a belt, for example).  It happens every single day, and after seven years it is seriously getting on my nerves.  When I was in a  relationship in college, I didn’t shave my legs and I cut my hair to within an inch of its life and I wore whatever clothes I wanted to.  My boyfriend didn’t criticize me and never complained or tried to influence my style.  I am really turned off by complaints and criticism.  Actually I am even turned off by my husband’s attempts at complimenting me since I detect so much self-interest in them.  That means that I am constantly turned off by our daily interactions!  It is devastating to our relationship.

The good thing about my husband’s background is that there were already many interracial-intercultural marriages within his immediate family.  His grandfather was Japanese, so his mother is a mixed race child.  He has a brother and a sister who chose to marry Brazilians and have children with dual Brazilian-Peruvian citizenship.  He wasn’t nervous about introducing me to his family because we weren’t going to be the first to break with tradition.  His family has been very accepting of our choices to get married and move to the United States.  They are glad that we have the Spanish language in common so that our children can have relationships with their aunts and uncles and cousins and grandparents.  If we weren’t teaching them Spanish, it would be near impossible for them to feel any connection to their extended family.

Anticipating the birth of our daughter, I bought a CD of lullabies which has soothing, restful songs from the Spanish-speaking Latin American countries.  My husband said that he had not heard most of these songs in this anthology; nevertheless we enjoy listening to them.  We also have two books of traditional nursery rhymes in Spanish which are helping me learn the verses that Peruvian mothers recite playfully to their children.  My husband does remember these nursery rhymes like Arroz con Leche and Los Pollitos Dicen.  We are glad to have these books as resources, because although he remembers the rhymes, he thinks it is my job as the mother (even though Spanish is my second language) to teach them to our children.  When we are in the car, we often listen to the two-disc anthology Tesoros Musicales de la Niñez that I got at Ross for 99 cents.  The songs are mainly from Mexico, but are familiar enough to appeal to anyone.  There are treasures such as La Cucaracha, La Araña Pequeñita (the itsy bitsy spider) and El Granjero (Old MacDonald).

So in conclusion, our children are awesome because they are exposed to such a variety of activities and people.  They are interested in aspects of Peruvian culture especially the music and dance, and they are bilingual but they are mostly just like children I would raise in other circumstances (I mean if I were married to a white man).  Thanks to my parents’ help, they are able to have access to ballet lessons, time in the woods, emphasis on the creative process, Musikgarten classes, Montessori preschool, etc.  It’s probably clear that I make no qualms about my hope that they pick up my values rather than my husband’s.  My husband is not my best friend or my soulmate.  We are almost always in disagreement.  We do agree that we should stay married, and we do agree that our children are delightful people.  Wow, this is the longest blog post I have ever written.  Thanks for taking the time to read it!

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16 Comments
  1. October 22, 2008 3:16 pm

    This was a beautiful post – well worth the time it took to read it.

    I always find these issues interesting; I like to see how different things affect people. Attitudes and cultures, foodways and expectations are all things that we don’t have to think about until someone comes along to challenge them, and the ways that we meet those challenges (or not) are good signposts for the kind of people we are (or the kind of people we want to be).

  2. October 22, 2008 3:36 pm

    I also found your post very enlightening. I relate to a lot of what you wrote. Thank you for sharing.

    I struggle to find a middle ground in our home because of vast differences in my husband’s upbringing and my own. It isn’t easy, and I feel alone much of the time. Just like you, I too hope that my children adopt my vaules system.

  3. evenshine permalink
    October 22, 2008 4:14 pm

    Your husband’s a cutie and so are your kids! I lived in Peru for a year and know exactly what you mean about the white=American concept. My kids are both beautifully mixed (Colombian husband) and I’m proud of it, even when I have to deal with the questions and looks.
    Glad to have found your blog!

  4. October 22, 2008 7:41 pm

    Wow! Thanks for a wonderfully honest blog post.

  5. October 22, 2008 8:31 pm

    FW, that was a great post. I’m so glad it was as long as it was because there were so many important things in there.

    It’s amazing to see just how much our culture can cultivate our personality. I think we often imagine it’s hereditary and evolved through our family but our family’s history also plalys an important role. I can see that you struggle with issues that I never even have to think about but you are becoming a better person for it and your family will be that much stronger for it. Look at all the amazing things that your kids know about that they would be clueless of if they were only ‘white’.

    I’m sure it’s something that you think about often but I can’t say I have preconceived notions or judgements about interracial kids/families. Maybe just that they would be bilingual. Which I am actually jealous of. I wish my kids had the exposure to different foods, language, culture that your kids do.

    Your family is beautiful!!!!

  6. October 23, 2008 12:08 am

    Families of any sort require a lot of balancing acts and compromises. And, as challenging as those things may be, they’re really worth it. You have a lovely, wonderful family! I enjoyed reading your post too.

  7. October 23, 2008 9:56 am

    That was brutally honest.

    But it’s probably your honesty that will give you a fighting chance at holding the marriage together. It is better to have a bleeding wound than gangrene. Too many couples allow friction to fester, in silence.

    Based on my life experiences, I find these same tensions eventually surface in EVERY romantic relationship. The details are always different, but the cause is always the same — two personalities negotiating for dominance.

    “Negotiating” is one important word, because every relationship is an ongoing negotiation. We’ll return to this one.

    “Dominance” is another important word, because that seems to most often be the subliminal issue. A competition between two competing — and irreconcilable — world views. Two viewpoints, each with a desire to win. I wonder sometimes if the desire to win or become dominant, is also the cause for relationship failure?

    Or worse…one partner submitting in resignation and resentment. Simply another form of failure.

    Perhaps the — overt (and covert) — goal of relationship negotiations should be changed from “struggling for dominance” to “seeking philosophical freedom for individuality.” Neither person should seek to win, or convert the other. Instead energy could be devoted to negotiating for agreement on simple principles for the relationship:

    • We agree to remain sexually faithful
    • We agree to provide a loving home for our children
    • We agree to meet as a family for evening meals
    • We agree to (insert principles here)

    Etc.

    Once those principles are established and agreed, the negotiations around those principles become one of details. “We agree to meet as a family for evening meals” has secondary negotiations associated: who will make the meal?, what will be the style of food?, what time will we eat?, etc. This is the daily stuff.

    Think “win-win” instead of “win-lose” for each of these interactions, until it becomes habit: http://www.amazon.com/Habits-Highly-Effective-People/dp/0671708635

    What is NON-NEGOTIABLE is expression of individual liberty. Freedom of self. It is each individual’s right and privilege to self-determine his or her own life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. This includes shaving legs (or not), and having a fulfilling career outside of homemaking (or not). For the 15 minutes each of us has here on earth, we ought to be seeking joy.

    Joy as defined by self.

    Beware of, and deflect, emotionally manipulative attempts to control. Attempts to interfere with individual personal liberty. “You must be a stay-at-home mother for the sake of the children” is NOT a valid negotiation strategy. Because, in this instance, what will benefit the children more: an unhappy parent who is continually home and telegraphing resentment…or a parent who picks up a child from daycare filled with joy and excited by the challenges she faced at work?

    (just an example — don’t know if it applies to your situation)

    This is where your brutal honesty plays a critical role. Confront manipulation: cultural, personal, gender. Help your husband see and appreciate your amazing force of will and honesty are strengths that can help root out the rot and make the relationship strong.

    It was interesting and helpful thinking through all this. Thanks.

    Your friend,
    Rick

  8. October 23, 2008 12:33 pm

    Wow! Now THAT is one hell of a melting pot. The anthropologist in me is giddy.

  9. Susannah permalink
    October 23, 2008 3:09 pm

    Your children are gorgeous and will be so well prepared for life being open-minded and well rounded individuals. I really wish I knew how to speak Spanish…to be bi (or especially tri)-lingual is a wonderful asset!

    One of my best friends from college is from Brazil and settled in DC with her husband (who is a local from Waynesboro!) and they have a young son who looks almost 100% Brazilian. Not only will he learn Portugese and English, but he will be able to dabble in Spanish as well and is already more ‘traveled’ than many children I know!

  10. October 24, 2008 3:01 am

    My hubby wants me to wear a belt, too– you and I have that in common. I have always thought your children are just so darn cute and beautiful! Thanks for such an open and honest post. 🙂 🙂

  11. October 24, 2008 12:21 pm

    What a great and honest post. I can relate to much of it. My husband’s and my own racial backgrounds are very mixed, so naturally our children are mixed. It has been interesting to see the physical aspects of the children the emerge from my womb. The first with straight dark hair, dark eyes and olive complexion. The second with light grey eyes, curly dark hair and very light, rosy skin. The third with pale brown (almost blond) hair, dark eyes and a lighter skin tone with almost yellow undertones. We always wonder if we would have ended up with a green-eyed red-head if we had another!

    My husband was raised in France and we have difficulties with a cultural barrier and expectations in our marriage. He is a wonderful, generous man, but our backgrounds do clash regularly. He has made me grown in many ways though and some of it has been uncomfortable. He has demanded that I become more outspoken in my feelings and needs because that is the type of environment he was raised in and I was raised in one where there wasn’t a lot of expression of needs, mostly things were left unspoken and usually needs were un-met. This has ultimately been good for me, but very uncomfortable to step out of that pattern I grew up with.

    There are other daily, minute things that we have to work on or just accept of each other, so I can really get where you are coming from.

  12. October 25, 2008 4:10 pm

    What a wonderful post, thank you so much for sharing. It reminded me a little of a conversation I had with my sister-in-law whose family is from India (she was born in the US). She mentioned that she and my brother are always being told by people that they will have “gorgeous” children – they currently have no kids, and probably won’t for a bit. Another friend of mine who is also in an interracial marriage said they run into the same comments, too. It makes me wonder if that’s related to what you said about the Japanese seeing mixed-race children as exotically beautiful, or if it’s an awkward way that people try to show their support of the relationship, or what leads people to say that. Anyway, I really appreciate the honesty in your post. And your fierce pride and love for your children is so evident.

  13. November 7, 2008 10:42 pm

    What a profoundly honest post. I was captivated by your story, particularly the work you do to reconcile your beliefs and values with your marriage.

  14. November 10, 2008 2:43 pm

    Thank you all for your support and helpful comments! I am moved to tears (which is why it took me so long to write any sort of reply) by your kindness.

  15. Yur permalink
    June 10, 2009 2:02 am

    Please read : Man’s most dangerous myth – by ashley montagu. It’s a good start – a book written before wwii.
    Anyway, here are my thoughts:
    I am peruvian (born in peru) but raised in the usa. My wife is mexican (born in mexico). My children are born in the usa. Some of my relatives are indigenous and some of my relatives are european – both whom carry very clear distinctions. My wife’s family is the same but a little less clearly divided. Her great grandmother was clearly indigenous.

    The truth about peru is this: it is an extremely racist country with grotesque ideas of race. Every asian man is chinese, every black man is negrito, every indian a cholo, and every american white. You’ll hear perverse sayings such as marry white and improve the race. And even uglier stuff than this but no point in going into all that ignorance.
    Because i can pass for white in peru doesn’t free me from being a mexican in the usa – in which of course mexican is a derogatory word in itself.
    So, being raised in the usa and then having children i was totally freaked about the issues my children would go through. Latino, hispanic, asian… what name would they be called? But after dealing with my own stupid ideas of race and purity – mere children’s tales of the monster under the bed – i came up with this: You are your family. And no nation-state can claim that right from you. You are not white, black, brown, pink or orange; mestizo, mulato, negrito, chino, or cholo. In fact, you have the right to claim all the rights of the nation-state you are born in (that is until the facists take that right away). So claim it and let your children claim it! I am not a hyphenated person, nor is the melanin in my skin who i am or who my children are. I am my family and my children are my family’s. And we are a race of people!
    Everything else is monkey shine. Take this for a thought: africa has the greatest genetic variance of all continents and there indigenous “negritos” in the Philippines. Europe is not a continent (really!) outside of the fake line drawn in the skins of its people. Free your mind! And give that power to your children!

  16. Yur permalink
    June 10, 2009 2:13 am

    just to add on a little thing:
    my ideas and my wife’s ideas of race caused friction between us for many years, that would wound us deeply. My quest to find a solution to problem led me to research who was right. I found us both to be wrong. I did not want to poison my children’s minds with the drivel our nation-state schools had programmed into us. SO, i freed their minds – which they come home now and talk about how they were taught this and that silly racist idea. They laugh.
    We are now at peace with each other and our children have found identity with us and this has brought our whole family together. Try it!

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