|Our Bicultural Family
Photo by Jensen Photography
When you’re the parent of a bicultural child, funny things happen. Complete strangers make comments – some harmless, some rude. The catalyst often comes from whether or not the parent “matches” the child physically.
Below are a few real life examples from myself and Bicultural Mama readers.
My daughter is half Chinese and half Caucasian. She’s taken on my darker features so no one questions that she’s mine. One day at the post office, an elderly lady walks up to my daughter’s stroller. She looks at her, then at me. Here’s our conversation:
“Wow, is that an Amerasian baby?” the lady asks.
I don’t answer back immediately because I don’t know what she’s saying. I’ve never heard that word before. It takes me a moment to realize she is combining the words American and Asian.
According to Wikipedia, “In its original meaning, an Amerasian is a person born in Asia, to a U.S. military father and an Asian mother.” Um, okay, this definitely does not apply to our situation. Wikipedia continues, “The term has sometimes been used to describe a person in the United States of mixed Asian and non-Asian ancestry, regardless of the circumstances.” I suppose this broad definition could reflect my daughter.
I know the lady is just curious and means well, so I answer, “Do you mean is she mixed? Yes, she’s half Chinese.”
The lady gushes, “Oh, she’s so beautiful, just like my grandchildren. They’re Amerasian, too!”
Well, at least she had a positive attitude.
Julie C. is Caucasian with wavy blond hair and is married to a Burmese man. The Charlotte, North Carolina mom of two young girls tells her story:
“A stranger says to me, ‘Oh my God. Your kids are so cute. Are they twins . . . well, I mean, are they actually even yours?’I understand the curiosity, but would much rather have someone say, ‘What is their background?’ than imply I may have stolen them from somewhere! It’s hard because I know most people who ask questions are not intentionally being rude – they are just curious. I get the twins question even more than the ‘Where are they from’ question, so I have the feeling people think I adopted twins. On the other hand, there is a difference between being curious about their background (okay) and being curious about our family situation (not ok – none of their business if my kids are biological, adopted, or foster).
In another situation I was out with my daughters, an Asian friend, and her two mixed children. A woman thought all four of the kids were my friend’s, and I was the nanny!”
Too White Baby
Maureen from Indonesia is part Dutch, Ambonese (ethnic group of mixed Malay-Papuan origin) and Manadonese (Manado is a province of Indonesia). The single mom of one son is the author of the blog Tatterscoops, and she recounts the story from her father regarding her light-skin brother:
“My father told me the doctors didn’t even believe he was the father after my super ‘white’ brother was born. They had to put him under the UV lights right away because they thought he’s just too white!”
Maureen’s own son is mixed with a half Caucasian-American heritage. She reveals, “I’ve been on the receiving end of some really annoying inappropriate questions from strangers. From asking if I’m the nanny to saying ‘He’s so cute, too bad his nose looks just like yours!’ Excuse me? [This is one of] among other nuisance questionings.”
Pregnant Au Pair
Tanya. O. from the South Shore of Massachusetts is Thai and married to a Caucasian man. The mother of two young girls with a third child on the way shares her experience:
“When I was about 8th months pregnant with my second child, I was at the local playground with my eldest, pushing her in a swing. I started chatting with a slightly older blonde mom pushing her baby on the swing next to mine. We talked about how babies can be fickle and tire of the swing as soon as you place them in there.
We spoke long enough for anyone to determine that I had an American accent. Later on I noticed a young woman whom I guessed was a Thai nanny, based on her appearance. I deduced that she was the blonde mom’s nanny. Then out of nowhere the blonde mom excitedly asked me, ‘HEY! Are you an au pair, too?!?’
I was aghast and managed to brightly reply, ‘Are you asking me that because I’m ASIAN?’ She backpedaled and stammered, ‘Oh no no no no! It’s just that . . . you look so young!’ I wish I had a more caustic reply like, ‘Why would you assume I’m an au pair which means I’m not from this country when I obviously don’t have a foreign accent? And do you think if I were an au pair, I would be pregnant?’
It was just so clearly a case of racial profiling, and it was so off-putting because she actually vocalized her prejudgment. And seriously it’s not like my daughter didn’t resemble me.”
I hear a lot of stories from darker-skinned moms who get mistaken for the nanny. In the New York tri-state area where I live, it does seem like the majority of the nannies are from another country so the stereotype stems from some truths. But like all stereotypes, there are exceptions:
When I was working a corporate job in my past career, I had a nanny. People would ask, “What country is she from?” I would answer, “From America.” They’d reply, “No really, what ethnicity is she?” My nanny was Caucasian, as in an American citizen who happen to have an Italian last name – her family came to the U.S. generations ago from Italy. Believe it or not I had a white nanny as they do exist.
Whether my nanny took a walk with my Asian-looking daughter or brought her to a store, stranger would compliment “her baby” and assume she had adopted a girl from Asia.
Why is it when a dark-skin woman pushes a stroller, she is presumed to be the nanny? When a light-skin woman does the same, she is the mother – even when the baby doesn’t “match.”
There are always exceptions as seen in some of the examples in this post, but in general this appears to be the line of thinking for many people.
If you have a story to share, please post it in the comments below.