3.12.2005

How we look is not who we are

A Hispanic mother and daughter, both well dressed with fabulous heals, on their way to dinner. An elderly couple - she in capri khakis and cool sandals. A young couple, maybe in their early 30s, pushing a stroller with a six month old. A frazzled mom in a navy windbreaker and jeans and easy ponytail, barking orders at three young boys who frantically followed her, one of whom was likely her son. A stunning Malaysian woman and a J.Crew model-type caucasian man holding hands, laughing. A man who looked a little too much like Moby, complete with retro glasses and silk screen t-shirt, getting out of his old but solid Volvo wagon heading to the supermarket. A woman with long, thick blond hair that she had trouble keeping out of her face as she walked two big lab retrievers. An adorable African American family - mom, dad and 2.5 kids - piling out of a minivan.

Within less than 10 short minutes, the world walked around me as I waited with Boo in our car while my husband picked up the take out we had ordered. It was Friday night, and people were going out (or getting take out as we did). These are my people. This is my town. I admit that one of my fears for moving to the Burbs is this horrible stereotype in my head of the all-Caucasian, blond hair, blue eyes, ponytail-full-makeup-all-the-time wearing, golf playing, SUV/truck driving, potluck-loving, Stepford suburban. It's horrible to stereotype, but let's face it: we all do it. Even though I know most stereotypes not to be true, I still fear being the only Asian American in this new neighborhood. And I fear my son being the only interracial child in our neighborhood. And I dread the inevitable "where are you from" question, to which I will only get a brief moment of pleasure from their puzzled and uncomfortable expressions when I answer "the Pacific Northwest."

I rarely think about the impact being an interracial child will have on Boo, because I rarely think of myself as being different in any way from anyone else. I grew up surrounded by Caucasians and Asians. My best friends from childhood were all Vietnamese. My friends were German, Vietnamese, Filipino, Hispanic, you name it. Yet the world my parents wanted me to grow up in was the world according to America, and so, to my own fault, I am often seen as being more Caucasian than Asian by both Asians and Caucasians. I don't have an accent. I don't speak Tagalog (very well). I don't follow a lot of the cultural traditions of my parents' heritage.

One of my friends recently told me she doesn't even think about me being Asian, that she just forgets because I am simply Me. While it was nice in sentiment, when people meet me for the first time, they see an Asian. When they've known me through emails and phone calls and then meet me for the first time in person, they often still look past me before realizing I am extending my hand for a handshake because I am the person they are meeting with; I took my husband's last name, which is not an Asian name, so more often than not I do not fit the picture they had in their head of the person who has been working with them. It's so weird for me to even be writing words like "interracial," because I don't even think of my husband and I as such, even though according to the world's dictionary we are.

But now, with Boo, I think it's time I start thinking about raising an interracial child. Yes, it is like raising any other child, but with some different challenges that I know we'll have to work through as a family.

I've dealt with racism, ignorance, complete stupidity and utter absurdity. It's often innocent, but sometimes very painful and disappointing, and a few times, frightening. I've experienced racism from people that I know, from people my family and extended family know, from strangers, from business associates, from bosses. It's everywhere, and it's ugly.

I must admit, that every time I travel, I tend to be more aware of who I am, how people see me, and how people may see me, my husband, and now our baby. I wonder when the day will come when I feel completely comfortable and safe to go anywhere at any time. Sadly I don't think that day will come in my lifetime, or even Boo's, and I wonder what I can do or say to Boo to help him feel confident in who he is and who he is to become. I can tell him of my experiences, and let him know the good and the bad, but I can't protect him from every embarrassing or hurtful situation, and ultimately that is what I wish I could do. Save him from the wolrd.

Boo is the most beautiful child I have ever seen, not just what the mirror reflects but what his soul speaks. Of course I would say that, he is my child. But I see so much in him that is complex, layered..I attribute most of that to the differences that both his father and I bring to him. My bouts of sudden frantic energy, his father's impatient yet calm demeanor - it's all there, in one beautiful, amazing human being. When it comes down to it, he is a mix of his father and me. I only wish when others see that mix, they will attribute it not to Boo being an interracial child, but to Boo simply being a child. Simply a child. Not Caucasian. Not Asian. Just Boo.

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