Open Mike: Teaching Race in Multicultural Families

OK, let's give this a shot - the first Open Mike (which will henceforth be posted on Fridays) has begun.

Many thanks to everyone that posted a comment or sent an email for with topics. We have enough to address a different one every week for three months. Not too shabby!

The groundrules are simple: Just comment on the topic. If you're uncomfortable commenting as yourself, comment anonymously. The point is to share what you think, so please do. And don't worry about comment length.

And so - the topic of the first Open Mike is:

How do parents in multicultural and multiracial families teach their children about race and and ethnicity?


The Goos Family said…
I grew up my home culture being very traditional Korean (stuck in the 70s) and my culture outside the home being American. Growing up, I did not want to be Korean because that meant I was "different" and often times wished I had parents who were "normal" (i.e. could speak English, would get involved in the PTA, could understand what my world was like outside the home). As I have gotten older and have had children of my own, I want to pass on my Korean culture and traditions to my daughters. I want my daughters to be proud of who they are and where they come from. I have bio daughter who is Korean and American and adopted daughter who is Korean. I talk to my 3.5 year old about being part Korean and part American. We take part in cultural events offered in Seattle (which has a pretty diverse Asian population). We hope to make occasional visits to Korea where we still have relatives. Most importantly, I believe for any culture is it's language. I grew up speaking Korean in the home but my language is very rusty. So the whole family has decided to commit to a Saturday Korean school to learn the language. We also are in relationship with other Korean/Korean American families.
I'm not sure if I'm truly answering the original question about how I teach my children about race and ethnicity? In general, I think it's exposure to different races and ethnicities and engaging with them whether it be going to cultural events, being in relationship with people of different races, or learning about them.
Shoshana said…
It's really strange, but I don't think we've addressed this issue. I am raising 5 kids who are half Filipino and half American. They don't seem that much worried about racial differences. I guess they took their cues *sp?* from us. My husband and I just don't emphasize it too much. We make a point to be proud of our races when it needs pointing out, but it's not that often.
weigook saram said…
Most of my daughter's exposure to Koreans and Korean culture comes from my mother-in-law and my husband's extended family. I do try to seek out books and TV shows with Korean or other Asian characters, and just as part of our daily lives here in CA we spend a lot of time in various Asian communities.

Unfortunately right now most of our closest friends are white, just because that's who I happened to meet when we moved here two years ago. I do have one good friend who is married to an Indian-American man and has two biracial kids. And I've met some people through blogging, but because of geography we aren't able to see each other very often. So I'm working on making friends with more people who live nearby. I find it easy to have casual conversations at the park or library, but harder to get to that next level of friendship. I am hoping that sending her to a diverse preschool will help us make more connections.
Margie said…
I've found that with our children, school diversity has been really important. I think it's incredibly important for kids to know that they are not alone, not the only person of their ethnicity in their community.

Erica, I am hearing more and more from adoptees that language is key. Unfortunately, learning a language is a challenge in any circumstances, more so when there is no option to learn the language in the schools. This then raises the issue of culture school, whether or not to attend, etc. It's definitely the one area I wish we had pursued more diligently.

More of my thoughts to follow in at least one, maybe a couple of posts. It's a big topic.
trisha said…
Gosh, what a good question. First, I gues some background. My husband's mother is Korean and his father is Japanese. I am American. We have two children ages 2 and 7 months. We are currently living in Japan, but plan on moving to the States in three or four years.

I agree that language plays a big part in helping children understand race and ethnicity. I make sure that they have lots of books, videos as well as human interaction with both cultures. Sometimes I feel "swallowed" by the Japanese culture in that Japanese is the language my son primarily uses and while I try to incorporate American holidays and customs it is hard to get others to "play along".

I often wonder how it will be when we move back to the States. How will we maintain the Japanese aspect of their lives. I can only imagine how hard it must be for adoptive parents.

I think this type of discussion is invaluable and I am glad to have found a place to discuss and understand.
Margie said…
Hi, Trisha, welcome! I just visited your blog - very interesting! And I bet you are loving living in Japan. That is something I truly wish my family had been able to do, to live in Korea for an extended period of time. Looking forward to reading more!
Mama Nabi said…
As you know, Third Mom, we are going to "cheat" a little bit and live in Korea for a few years. I also plan to actively expose LN to other multiracial/ethnic families lest she thinks there's anything to be ashamed. Having been exposed early on to how she will be perceived both here in the midwest AND Korea, it's something that's on my mind constantly. It's one thing to try to shelter her, yet another to expose her to various aspects of a multicultural/racial/ethnic entity and still be able to guide her toward a blend of digity and pride in both her cutures/races/ethnicities as well as modesty, humility, and openness toward others. I hope we can also include extensive traveling to the mix...
The Goos Family said…
Mama Nabi,
Our family is considering living in Korea for a couple of years, too. My mother still lives there and she has some stepchildren who live nearby her. We'll probably be doing in the next year or two.
MomSquared said…
Third Mom, diversity is important for white kids, too!

I don't think I'd be the same person I am today if I hadn't grown up in Southern California.
Margie said…
Mom2, I agree - and for me how I grew up (in an almost exclusively white environment that divided on ethnic lines rather than race) is what I think pushed my interest in the world. In one way it could be seen as stifling, but even as a kid I realized looking around me that there was a lot out there that I was missing - and all that pushed toward a desire to know more about that world.

This had nothing to do with our decision to adopt or to adopt from Korea - but I know that it had a LOT to do with my hope to bring as much Korean culture into my family as possible.
Lori said…
This is an interesting question. After visiting the in-laws in SoCal, I started to realize that if we never live around there, MM probably won't be a part of the Nikkei community in the same way that our neice and nephews are. They're simply not as active in other parts of the country as in California. And, of course, my own background is more Japanese-Japanese than American-Japanese - even M., having lived in Japan for 10 years (while only one of his sisters has ever been there), is also a little more in tune with Japan than many I think we're already tending to emphasize MM's cultural past more than her present-day nikkei identity.

It also has a bit to do with the fact that M. generally doesn't like the 'official' nikkei community (in the same way that he doesn't like people who try to speak for all disabled people), because he finds them far too political and polarizing. And, of course, since he's disabled in addition to being a racial minority in the US, he brings to the table a somewhat different experience of race than many in the nikkei/Asian American community.

In concrete terms, what we're trying to do right now is preserve a sense of Japanese/Korean culture being part of who we are - in the food we eat, the TV and movies we watch, etc. The jury's still out on how we plan to approach language, but right now we buy and read Japanese books to MM (since it's all Greek to her, anyway), and she has a few Japanese children's CDs as well...that kind of thing. I'd like language to be a part of her cultural upbringing, and we even talk about moving back to Japan at some point in the future, but how exactly to go about making it a part of her life is a little murky right now.
This probably sounds really basic, but teaching by example is huge. I hope to teach my kids to be open minded, accepting, respectful and appreciative of all different cultures and races by doing those things myself.

Language is key and speaking openly about it will be good too, I would think.

Many of these lessons will have to be learned on their own. I am just barely wrapping my head around race and culture and I feel I was raised very well in regards to culture and racism growing up.

Lead by example and then there is the obvious of going to festivals and events and churches and trips to other cultures and music and art etc...

Oh and help elect Barack Obama, that will help bring racism to the forefront of our minds in this country. Plus, he rocks my political world. :)


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