10/6/11

“Does This Child Belong to You?” Presumptions and Assumptions

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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.

New Words
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.


Stolen Kids
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.”

Irony
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.



26 comments:

  1. I can really relate to this post. Not that I have biracial children, but I'm multiracial myself. Growin up was very difficult and challenging in the aspect that I would always get racially miss-judged and made fun of. So I'm a mix of half Asian half European/Hispanic Which includes the following in order of largest % (Filipino, Spanish, French, Japanese, Hawaiian). I was born like they expected me to be. Black straight hair and tannish skin. Then as I got older my hair turned blonde and my skin became pale. I did not even look like i was part asian as i grew up. To this day my skin is pale but you can tell I'm mixed. Now I normally get judged as a Hispanic or sometimes caucasion. On certain occasions though I do get asked if I am part Asian, which I do appreciate since in my younger years you couldn't tell. When I was younger I would get called hurtfull names like albino Asian, because I was so caucasion looking but with "slanted eyes". It is very difficult to be accepted for who you are even to this day which is pretty depressing the fact that we are in America and a lot of people are multiracial these days.

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  2. I can totally relate. My kids are a quarter Chinese. One looks hapa and obviously mine, while the other has blonde hair and blue eyes and looks nothing like me. I'm constantly asked if they're really brothers and if I'm the nanny of my younger son.

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  3. @Charissa *That one Hapa Girl* Hopefully with mixed families becoming more common nowadays then people will become more accepting and tolerant. Even though my is not Asian, he has almond-shaped eyes and he said he use to get teased that he was Asian (as if that was a bad thing). I think almond eyes are beautiful!

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  4. @Tracey @ www.dontmesswithmama.com No mother likes to be questioned if her child is really hers. Maybe people should wait for you to offer information instead of make assumptions about the children you're with (not that it's really their business, anyway).

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  5. When my daughter (who is Chinese/Caucasian) was an infant, I got asked where I adopted her from on several occasions. She really does not look mixed though, she looks almost totally Asian, so I understood the confusion. I get asked occasionally if my kids are mixed, but it's almost always a situation like you described, an older person who asks, then comments that their grandkids are part Asian too. I've never been upset by any of the comments though- I think my kids are pretty darned cute and am happy to have that opinion verified, even if it's in a slightly roundabout way :)

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  6. Yes, all that is very true. Another thing I came To realize is that people are also just stereotyping what a "typical" Asian looks like. A lot of people in America (that aren't very familiar with other outside countries) just think of the obvious features an Asia would have, then stereotype from that. Asians (especially in the philippines) come in manyyyy colors and various features. So someone can be full Asian (doesnt matter from what country) but to someone else that is not and is not aware of the various looks of the people from that country, they will racially miss-judge them. My Filipino family gets this a lot. Because some of my Filipino family members look Hispanic.. So they don't get judged as Asian, they get judgedas most common Mexican. So if people understood more that not everyone from the same country looks alike and does not have all the same features, it would also be a lot easier.

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  7. Ignore them. My daughter is half Salvadoran, and I get looks and comments, that I ignore, all the time. Ignorance doesn't deserve acknowledgement.

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  8. By the way, adorable family picture. :-)

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  9. @Carrie Yes, I think some people are just harmlessly curious. But I think any mom would take offense if someone questioned if her kid was really hers. That hasn't happened to me, but it has happened to several people I know.

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  10. This is why living in Hawaii really is a wonderful thing! I only got this type of question when we traveled. I think I told you before that I was asked if I adopted my daughter from China when she was a baby. My kid are half Chinese, but my husband was standing right beside me when I was asked this. I sometimes wish the rest of the world would get a clue. I worry about how my kids will adapt when they go away to college. I think the West Coast is better though.

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  11. This post speaks to me, I can totally relate. My family is multiracial black/white, my kiddos are biracial. From day one it always felt like anywhere my family went we were center stage. It's hard dealing with that pressure at all times no matter the situation. Even though my daughter looks exactly like me only a different hue I always hear. Are you the mom? Is that your kid? Did you adopt? Etc To me it usually comes across rude and annoying. I know it's not always meant that way but still. I used to ask other new moms does anyone ask if that's your baby? When they said no, I wondered what's the deal?? :) I've also dealt w my fair share of rude comments, looks, and judgments about my family but the good ones out way the bad hands down. Most ignorant people don't even a response.

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  12. This has happened to my friend Doily (she's Filipina and married to an American white man of Italian descent). Their daughter Grace looks so much like Doily, though her skin is a wee bit more fair. But Doily is often assumed to be the nanny by other Filipina nannies when she's out with Grace. Drives her nuts.

    I also saw an article years ago about a mixed-race couple (black mother/white father) who had twin girls -- one was blond and fair, the other dark-haired and dark-skinned. People always assumed the mother was the mother of the "black" child, and the nanny of the "white" one. They would look so puzzled when she'd say they were twins...

    People really need to mind their own beeswax. I also know a few moms who have adopted children from China, and they are asked if they are the "real" mom or if the child is their "real" child or adopted -- the nerve! Your child is your child -- period.

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  13. It's great that there is some discussion about this topic going on out there. I believe that the only way we can dispel these negative comments is by talking about these issues and how it makes us feel as moms. I wrote a post about this very issue in May, here is the URL if you would like to read it:

    http://1epicmom.com/2011/05/02/who-is-your-mama/

    Thanks for advocating for all of our multiracial families by discussing this issue openly and honestly!

    Char

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  14. First of all thank you for linking me up, Maria. It really is interesting to hear people's experiences with this 'issue'. Here, some people thinks that Indonesian girl who married a white guy are 'bar-graduated'. Most people here adores biracial babies/children and they would often pinch their cheeks as adoration 'gesture' which was a bit annoying to me at first but I got used to it although sometimes I wish I could pinch their cheeks and see how would they like it.

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  15. Excellent post, Maria. It is amazing some of the words that come out of people's mouths without any thought as to how it would affect the other person.
    When I was a baby, my aunt (who is fair-skinned) was strolling me and my brother around. I am darker (a tanned look!) - and I remember my mom saying how people would use to stop my aunt on the street and ask if I was African-American.
    By the way, the photo in this post is awesome!!

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  16. @Epic Char, thanks for your comment and sharing your own story via your link. That was pretty rude!

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  17. I love reading all these stories-it really makes me feel like I'm not alone. My kids look very Caucasian, and I'm Chinese. So far, I've never been asked if those were my kids, thankfully! -Elaine

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  18. Gotta crush those cliche' assumptions. You're doing a great job of it. :)

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  19. A hard hitting post...takes the hidden and not so hidden prejudices among folks head on. The only way to get rid of such darkness is to shed a bright light on it. This post does precisely that.

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  20. @DeepakThanks for your comment, Deepak. You always give great comments and I appreciate it!

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  21. Yes, this happens to me quite often. Because I am black people say things like, "do your kids have the same father" and " is the kids' dad involved in their life", when I clearly wear a weeding ring that hard to miss. I find myself defending who I am constantly. Good post!

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  22. ---People that ask such things are ignorant & rude. Seriously. Why is this their business? Good Post.

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  23. Be happy! Enjoy your kids!

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  24. Many of these comments are happened to me at some point, although because my kids look more Asian than Caucasian, no one questions whether they are mine. However, one of my sons is quite dark and when he was little, I got asked frequently whether my husband was Hawaiian/Filipino/Latino,etc.

    Thanks for sharing!

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  25. It's really surprising that people say these ridiculous things. The nanny confusion thing isn't though because so many people have them. My son and I look alike and people have asked me if I'm his mom or nanny, so I don't necessarily think it's a race issue.

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  26. I'm mixed (Chinese/Caucasian) and hubby is Chinese. I haven't come across this issue yet with my children. They are quite little and when we go out together, it's usually as a whole family so people probably put the pieces together. I suspect it will come up as they grow up. I'm sure I've asked my parents what they experienced before but I can't remember. I do remember one occasion when I was visiting a Chinese girlfriend in NYC and shopping with her and her mixed (Chinese/Hispanic) daughter, people assumed I was the mother. I corrected them but I'm not sure my girlfriend appreciated the opinions of the observers. I can see why they probably made this assumption - purely based on looks.

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