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We are witnessing a great demographic change in the dramatic increase in the number of children who come from backgrounds that are mixed in racial, ethnic, cultural, national, religious, or other ways. Census data shows that the multiracial population of American children has increased almost 50 percent since 2000, to 4.2 million, making it the fastest growing youth group in the country. Schools attempt to classify them in one racial category, but policies are unclear and inconsistent, leaving kids on their own to determine their identities.
One particularly large group are persons with one Asian parent and one non-Asian parent. In the article, “Some Asians' college strategy: Don't check ‘Asian,’” some so-called Hapa reveal the ambivalence and flexibility surrounding their identities. Parents wondering how to nurture their child’s multiracial identity might take a lesson from Tiger Mom Amy Chua, who raised two Hapa children.
Amy describes her two girls, Sophia and Lulu, as having “brown hair, brown eyes, and Asianesque features.” They both speak Chinese and Sophia eats “all kind of organs and organisms, duck webs, pig ears, and sea slugs, critical aspects of Chinese identity.” Yet, on their first trip to China, the girls are treated as spectacles, drawing curious crowds, even in cosmopolitan Shanghai, when people stared, giggled, and pointed at the “two little foreigners who speak Chinese.” At the zoo, when the girls were taking pictures of the baby pandas, the crowd was taking pictures of the girls.
Later, back in the U.S., when Amy refers to the kids as Chinese, Sophia corrects her, “Mommy—I’m not Chinese.”
Amy insists, “Yes you are.”
Sophia responds, “No, mommy—you’re the only one who thinks so. No one in China thinks I’m Chinese. No one in America thinks I’m Chinese.”
Amy is upset, but not swayed. She writes, “This bothered me intensely, but all I said was, ‘Well they’re all wrong, you are Chinese.’”
To me, this is a great message to give your kids — Don't let others tell you who you are. You determine who you are. Don't let anyone take away your identity. You need to know who you are, accept it, and assert that identity to others.
What more could a parent do to affirm a child’s identity? Exactly what Amy does, give them resources to strengthen and assert their identity—taking them to China, introducing them to Chinese foods, and providing the greatest gift of all, language. They speak Chinese. This ability empowers them to claim a Chinese identity—if they want to. She also gives them her family name Chua, another powerful symbol of ethnic identity, to go along with their father’s name Rubenfeld, together as Chua-Rebenfeld indicating their multiracial identity.
Whether the kids choose to emphasize their Chinese identity is up to them. The college years are often a time of ethnic identity exploration any young people can find great meaning in embracing their ethnicity and joining a community of others who feel the same way. But we all have multiple identities, and the kids may find that their ethnicity has little meaning for them compared to other interests. This is a personal choice. Some young people of mixed ancestry identify as Asian, where others join groups like Harvard’s HAPA (Half Asian People’s Association), and describe themselves as “mixed Asian American.” Others consider drawing lines between different ethnic groups a form of racism, and say their ethnic identity is situational, depending on where they are.
Some Hapa do not accept who they are, wishing they were more like their friends and idols. Too often kids from multiethnic backgrounds like Amy’s, who are Chinese and Jewish, are influenced by the reactions they receive from others about their identity. As Amy’s kids found out on their trip to China, others are quick to classify you, and to tell you who you are and who you are not. When people kept telling them that they were not Chinese, they could have decided it’s easier to just accept with others say. This is when Amy’s message of defiant self-affirmation can be crucial to the child, empowering them to assert with pride and confidence in declaring, “Well, you’re wrong, I am Chinese.”
Posted on June 15, 2012 by Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, Ed.D.
Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu, EdD is a professor at Stanford University School of Medicine, Center for Comparative Studies in Race and Ethnicity, and Fielding Graduate University. He is the author of a blog on multicultural families, as well as numerous articles and books including, Multicultural Encounters, and When Half is Whole. Follow him on Twitter or Facebook.
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Tags: *Diverse Families, *Parent Engagement at Home , Character Development, Communicating, Multiracial, Parents as teachers
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