Thursday, April 23, 2009

A Wake Up Call

Up until now, life for Isabel and me has been relatively smooth, but I know that very soon she will begin to recognize the differences between us. She will realize that we have different skin color, eye color and eye-shape. She will struggle and wrestle with issues that I can’t begin to understand. She has been asking me to tell her about her foster mom and dad for several months now. She (the animal lover) tells me she’s going “to visit my foster daddy because he has a farm.”

The awareness is beginning to surface and with it, the first steps in the lifetime journey of coming to peace with being a transracial adoptee to a single mother. I know that she will have to work through many difficulties. I know that she will encounter prejudice and racism that I, as a white person, have never had to deal with. I know that I can’t protect her from the world forever. I know that. I just wasn’t prepared to deal with it so soon.

I was at the hair salon on Wednesday. (Isabel was not with me.) I was sitting in the chair and tuned in to the rambling of the young (I later found out) 12-year-old behind me. She was yakking away about her mother getting the color wrong on her hair and that she “looked like a flippin’ China baby.” She repeated twice, each time with even more disdain in her voice.

I felt like someone had kicked me in my gut.

…and then she continued. “You know how THEY get their names??? The mother throws something at the wall and the sound it makes is what they call their kid. Ping. Dong. Wang. Ha ha ha!”

I wish I could describe what I felt but I am still processing it all. I felt like I had the wind knocked out of me. I know there was anger…and disgust… and sadness. This was a TWELVE year old!!! Sixth grade!!!! How in the world could she come up with such things? Clearly, it was learned in an atmosphere of ignorance and fear and small-mindedness. It is a world that I have been protected from. It is a world that Isabel will be a part of.

I teach in an inner-city college prep school with a multicultural student body. My students are from Korea, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, China, the Philippines, Mexico and Russia. They are Hispanics, African Americans, White, bi-racial, multi-racial, rich, poor, big, small. Some live in the local neighborhood; others endure a 90-minute bus ride each way. It is a microcosm of the world. Though not perfect, there is a deep sense of respect for people and their culture. I love teaching there. I love that my daughter will have the opportunity to have classmates that look like her. I love that diversity is embraced. It is the world in which I have been living for the last 15 years.

However, it is not the world that a lot of people either live in…or want to live in. I needed to be reminded of that… not so much for my sake, but for my daughter’s.


milanesemasala said...

I know what you mean. My husband is Italian and I'm Canadian of South Asian extraction. Strangely enough, my kids look very Caucasian (my daughter even has blue eyes!) so I get a lot of confused looks when I'm out with my kids. In Italy, immigration is still quite a new phenomenon. But my attitude is to not pay too much attention to the ignoramuses of the world and focus on how lucky my kids are that they have such a rich, diverse, unique background. There will be questions and confusion in the future but I think if I can instill pride and self-confidence from an early age, that will give them the strength to deal with the nastiness they might encounter in the future. Fingers crossed!

Mom2Isabel said...

Thank you for you comment, mailanesemasala. I loved your thought, "I think if I can instill pride and self-confidence from an early age, that will give them the strength to deal with the nastiness they might encounter in the future." Amen.

psychohist said...

As a first generation immigrant, my Chinese mother faced a tremendous amount of discrimination. She never talked to me about it when I was a child, though, so I ignored comments like what you overheard just I ignored other hurtful kids' comments that weren't based on race. It never really bothered me.

I might have grown up in a temporal sweet spot, though. The generation before I would have faced much more social discrimination. The generation after - today - I would face institutional discrimination from Universities seeking "balanced student bodies".

I wish that we could get completely away from judging based on race, and start treating every person as an individual. It would be especially nice if that could happen by the time your daughter - and mine - grew up.

Bev said...


I am sorry you had to hear such awful things from a 12 year old. Not sure that I could have held my tongue on that one. I went off on some people a fews years ago for talking bad about Puerto Ricans with my son near by. Of course, they said they were only joking, but I reminded them that they never know who is around that do not know they are joking! Josh has had to endure alot of comments, etc. in school, mostly in middle school. I hope it is getting better in high school. Anyway, yes we will all have a hard road ahead in this respect.

Chinazhoumom said...

Hi L
Great post !!! amazing how it feels when it hits "home"!